dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

On Religion and Relationship

"Relationship, not religion." It is a concept one hears often, especially in Evangelical Christian altar calls, sermons, testimonies and conversations. It is also a concept that has resonated with me in the past. Had you asked me ten years ago to name my top five books, The End of Religion by Bruxy Cavey, a dynamic Canadian pastor in the Anabaptist tradition, would have been on the list. Cavey's thesis is that Jesus did not come to establish a religion, he came to do away with religion and replace it with something better: relationship. He laments how others then took Jesus' movement and built a religion around it, and calls people back to Jesus' model (as he understands it) of religion-free relationship with God.

Evangelical Christians' testimonies are often framed as a before-and-after picture. The "before" part of the story is sometimes framed in terms of atheism or at least a total disconnect with Christianity, but often the "before" portrait involves an upbringing or a phase of involvement with some non-Evangelical form of Christianity such as Catholic or high Anglican. Such testimonies frequently emphasise that the protagonist had been surrounded by "religion" but had never had a real encounter with God; had never given his/her life to Jesus. A "born-again experience," perhaps while visiting an Evangelical church or crusade, then initiates the transformation from "religion" (empty, lifeless rituals and rules) to "relationship" (fulfilling, exhilarating interactions with God).

Now, it is not my intention in this article to attack Evangelical Christianity, or to judge anyone else's spiritual journey or relationship with God. If, through a narrative like the one above, someone has turned from a life of nihilism and unbelief to a life of faith and love, that is wonderful. What I would like to point out is that this religion-vs.-relationship trope is a false antithesis, and that it often unfairly characterises Catholicism in terms of "religion without relationship."

As I said, in these Evangelical before-and-after testimonies, when the "before" story includes an upbringing in Catholicism with lots of religion but no relationship with God, the transformation to "after" invariably takes place outside the Catholic Church and involves an exit from Catholicism. Moreover, no testimony that I have heard offered a conciliatory remark like "But there are many Catholics who do have an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ." Thus, implicit in the testimony is the assumption that Catholicism is "religion without relationship," the foil to authentic faith in Jesus Christ.

Is this assumption well-founded? I think not. Just because you never encountered God in the Catholic Church obviously does not mean others don't. If you regularly attended Mass and received the Sacraments in the Catholic Church but never encountered God, could it be that the problem was not with the Catholic Church but with you? Indeed, I think any Evangelical would have to concede this point. Must one be at an Evangelical church or among Evangelicals to have a born-again experience, a relational encounter with the risen Lord? Evangelical theology answers with a resounding "No! God can and does call people to faith in Jesus in any circumstances of His choosing." Then, at least in principle, an Evangelical must concede that a person could encounter Jesus and have a relationship with Jesus in a Catholic Church. What is necessary for a relationship with Jesus to develop? Paul famously wrote that "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17 ESV). Do people hear the word of Christ in the Catholic liturgy? Even if one contends that Catholic homilies and liturgical prayers convey false doctrines, there are three or four biblical passages, including a Gospel reading, heard at every Mass. Surely the public reading of the Scriptures suffices for one to hear what Paul calls the word of Christ, and respond with faith. (Or are the words of Christ Himself impotent, unable to evoke a faith-response without some Evangelical preacher expounding them?) Thus, the question is, if encountering Christ in a Catholic Church is in principle possible, and if you heard the word of Christ over and over in the Catholic Church, what prevented you from responding with faith and having a relationship with Christ? Was it not only your own unbelief? 

Perhaps then the "religion-vs.-relationship" dichotomy is a false one. However, it all depends on what one means by "religion" and "relationship." "Religion" has become something of a byword in Western culture. Population research reveals, for instance, that Americans increasingly self-identify as "spiritual but not religious". This seemingly does not reflect an Evangelical spiritual revival whereby people are abandoning the husk of religion and finding the kernel of authentic relationship with Jesus. For instance, while about half of the "spiritual-but-not-religious" crowd identified as either Protestant (35%) or Catholic (14%), this crowd has much lower attendance at religious services than those who identified as both spiritual and religious. "Spiritual-but-not-religious" thus goes hand-in-hand with reduced participation in corporate worship, which is not at all what the Evangelical "relationship-without-religion" vision calls for.

I suspect that the appeal of "spirituality" over "religion" in America lies in the ascendancy of individual autonomy. Don't label me! I am spiritual in my own way. I define what "God" means for me. By contrast, "religion" has the connotation of organisational structure, of group labels, of conformity to group norms. To declare myself "religious" is to allow myself to be boxed in. In this sense of the word, devout Catholics are definitely religious (since they submit to the teachings and authority of the Church), but then so (one would think) are devout Evangelicals, most of whom also insist on certain doctrinal and moral norms.

When Evangelicals use "religion" as a by-word, the antithesis of "relationship," they seem to be thinking in terms of the kind of religion for which Jesus indicted the scribes and Pharisees: an emphasis on rituals and rules to the neglect of relationship. However, Jesus is indicting a particular kind of religion, not religion itself. He himself does not set religion and relationship in antithesis: after rebuking the Pharisees for their scrupulosity concerning tithes while neglecting justice and the love of God, he does not say "Forget tithes and such things, and just love God!" He says, "These [i.e., justice and the love of God] you ought to have done, without neglecting the others [i.e., tithes]" (Luke 11:42). It is not either/or but both/and. Religion that is faithful to Jesus' teachings will always hold any "rules" in subjection to transcendent values like justice, truth and love. However, Jesus clearly does not condemn "religion" in principle, either for its rules (Jesus issued many commandments), or for its hierarchical organisation (Jesus founded the Church with himself as absolute ruler and the apostles as his deputies), or for its rituals (Jesus indisputably established the practices of baptism and the Eucharist, and also implicitly endorsed a liturgical calendar by observing the Jewish feasts).

The bottom line is that religion is good in the measure that it enables relationship with God and with our fellow humans, and bad in the measure that it hinders such relationship. If we strive for relationship that is devoid of religion, are we not chasing the wind? Are we not falling into the individualistic, subjective "spiritual-but-not-religious" snare that holds much of 21st century America in its grasp? 

Following Jesus Christ entails a direct personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It also involves participation in the mystical Body of Jesus Christ. This Body, the Church, exercises what can only be called religious authority (see my previous article on "binding and loosing"). And, like it or not, the corporate activities of the Church can only be termed "religious." Make no mistake, Christianity is unique among the religions of the world. But it is still a religion.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Even the Demons Believe and Shudder: Demonology in the Epistle of James

1. Introduction
 1.1. The Remark in Context
2. Christadelphian interpretations of James 2:19b
 2.1. Ta daimonia as Mentally Ill Humans
 2.2. Ta daimonia as Idols or Non-Existent False Gods
3. Proposed Interpretation
 3.1. Ta daimonia as Evil Transcendent Beings
 3.2. "Shuddering" in Ancient Sources
  3.2.1. Shuddering and Daemons in Ancient Greco-Roman Sources
  3.2.2. Shuddering and Demons in Early Jewish and Christian Literature
 3.3. Demonic Pseudo-Wisdom in James 3:15
 3.4. The Contribution of James 2:19b to the Argument of James 2:14-26
4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

In the midst of a famous paragraph about faith and works (James 2:14-26), the Epistle of James makes a passing remark that sounds obscure and strange to modern ears: "Even the demons believe and shudder" (James 2:19b). At first glance, it seems obvious that a writer who asserts that demons "believe and shudder" thinks that demons actually exist. However, this inference about James's worldview is not made by Christadelphians, a sect that disbelieves in demons and all other forms of supernatural evil and claims that the Bible uniformly supports this theological position.

Christadelphian writers have adopted two distinct interpretations of James 2:19b, and in particular of the meaning of ta daimonia. In this article I interact critically with Christadelphian interpretations of James 2:19 and argue that this text indeed presupposes the reality of demons. This conclusion, which enjoys virtually unanimous support among biblical scholars, is supported by by religion-historical parallels to the notion of demons shuddering, by another passage where the writer refers to demons (James 3:15), and by the role of James 2:19b in James's argument about faith and works.

1.1. The Remark in Context

Before discussing the two Christadelphian interpretations, let us quote the remark in its context:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? (James 2:14-20 NRSV)
Note that the noun "faith" in this passage shares in Greek the same stem as the verb "believe" in v. 19 (noun pistis; verb pisteuō). This close correspondence, which is important to understanding v. 19, is unfortunately lost in translation. The Greek of v. 19 reads, su pisteueis hoti heis estin ho theos, kalōs poieis; kai ta daimonia pisteuousin kai phrissousin.1 Apart from some variations in the word order and precise construction of the phrase "God is one," there are no significant text-critical problems. There is little diversity among English translations of James 2:19b. Some translate the first kai as "Even" while others render it "also."2 Some translate phrissō as "tremble" while most have "shudder." Some translators insert "that" after believe, indicating that they understand the content of the demons' belief to be "that God is one" from the preceding clause.3 My own translation of James 2:19 is, "You (singular) believe that God is one—well done! Even the demons believe and shudder."

2. Christadelphian interpretations of James 2:19b

One encounters two main approaches to James 2:19b in Christadelphian literature. These approaches differ both from each other and from mainstream biblical scholarship on the meaning of the term ta daimonia. The first approach understands ta daimonia to refer to demon-possessed humans, which Christadelphians gloss as "mentally disturbed humans" (since Christadelphians deny that demon-possession is a real phenomenon and that the inspired biblical writers could have regarded it as such). The second approach understands ta daimonia to refer to pagan idols or false gods that do not exist. Certain Christadelphian writers hedge their bets between both of these approaches. We will describe each interpretation in more detail and critique it before offering our own exegesis of the remark.

2.1. Ta daimonia as Mentally Ill Humans

The first interpretation reads ta daimonia not as "the demons" but as "metonymy for the [supposedly] demon possessed people, and their observed 'trembling' at the time of their cure."4 The statement is taken as an allusion to the demon-possessed humans that Jesus healed, as we read about in the Synoptic Gospels—perhaps even specifically to "Legion" (Matt. 8:28-34).5 Since Christadelphians do not read the Gospels as narrating cases of actual demon-possession and exorcism but as describing mental illnesses in language that accommodated the ignorance of the ancients, Christadelphians following the "demon-possessed humans" interpretation of James 2:19b gloss ta daimonia as "mentally disturbed people."6 Christadelphians favouring this interpretation include Duncan Heaster (with some qualification and vacillation),7 Wes Booker,8 Alfred Norris,9 George Booker (again with vacillation),10 H. P. Mansfield,11 F. G. Jannaway,12 Ron Abel (in the popular Christadelphian resource Wrested Scripture)13 and Jonathan Burke.14

The "demon-possessed humans" interpretation of ta daimonia in James 2:19 faces a simple and serious difficulty: the word daimonion never means "demon-possessed human" in the New Testament or elsewhere, as is confirmed by standard lexical authorities. The BDAG lexicon gives two definitions for daimonion, namely "transcendent incorporeal being with status between humans and deities" and "hostile transcendent being with status between humans and deities".15 The LSJ lexicon, which covers a longer period of Greek usage, gives three definitions for daimonion, namely "divine power," "inferior divine being," and "evil spirit." The Synoptic Gospels have a specific term that they use for demon-possessed humans, which is a middle or passive participle of daimonizomai, "be possessed by a hostile spirit".16 The Synoptic writers never use the word daimonion for the demon-possessed human; only for the possessing demon. The limitations of language in describing a phenomenon like spirit possession require some ambiguity and interchange as to whether the demon or the possessed human is the subject/object of certain actions (see further my article on the accommodation theory of demon-possession in the Synoptic Gospels).17

To claim that ta daimonia takes on a metonymical sense in James 2:19 that is nowhere else attested is audacious. Such a bold move might be justified if none of the usual senses of ta daimonia fit the context and there was a substantial body of contextual evidence to support this novel sense. However, in James 2:19 the usual meaning of ta daimonia ("the demons") does fit, as we shall see, and there is no contextual evidence supporting the meaning "demon-possessed humans." In fact, if we follow the "demon-possessed humans" interpretation, the remark of James 2:19b no longer fits James's argument. In context, James is arguing against the proposition that faith (pistis) without works can save (James 2:14), and resorts here to a reductio ad absurdum argument, citing ta daimonia as a class of beings that "believe" (pisteuō) and yet are obviously not saved. Yet if James is alluding to demon-possessed humans whom Jesus cured, the allusion undercuts his argument, since these individuals were saved. The Gospel exorcism narratives do not permit an aphorism like "Demon-possessed humans, as a rule, believe and yet are unsaved." Furthermore, it is impossible to explain the reference to "demonic" pseudo-wisdom in James 3:15 in terms of mental illness.

The "demon-possessed humans" interpretation can be safely ruled out. In fact, it is not only exegetically indefensible but also morally reprehensible. By glossing "demon-possessed humans" as "mentally disturbed humans," we end up with the inference that people suffering from mental illness are a prototypical example of faith without deeds, that is, impotent faith. Thus the interpretation contributes to the stigmatisation of mental illness that prevails in many societies—and religious communities—today.

2.2. Ta daimonia as Idols or Non-Existent False Gods

The second Christadelphian interpretation reads ta daimonia in James 2:19 as referring either to pagan idols or to non-existent false gods. George Booker offers a very detailed interpretation of James 2:19, which I will have to quote at length because it is just too complicated to summarise:
So the "demons" (meaning, here, the "demoniacs", or the ones suffering from what they imagine to be "demons") tremble when they encounter a greater power... because they imagine, at first, these little "demons" (meaning, to their minds, the "gods" or "devils" afflicting them) are now trembling in fear at a greater power! 
And then, finally, as (or when) they understand what has actually happened, they realize that these "demons" (meaning the "false gods") do not exist at all -- they are what Paul calls "no-gods"... nothing at all (1Co 8:4; Acts 19:26)! 
So, in Jam 2:19, the question is: Does the initial "trembling" of the "demons", when confronted with a greater Power, lead (a) to the sufferer's recognition that the God of Israel, or of Jesus, is simply greater than the little "demons"? OR does it lead (b) to a greater and more lasting realization, by the one cured or by witnesses, that such "demons" do not exist at all, and therefore that Yahweh is -- truly and absolutely -- the one and only LORD and God? 
The above comments blend together two related ideas: (a) that "demons" may mean those who suffer otherwise unexplained illnesses, as well as (b) those demonic "gods" whom they acknowledge or worship.
Booker seems to want to "blend together" two distinct meanings of ta daimonia: human sufferers of "otherwise unexplained illnesses" and "false gods." We have already ruled out the first meaning above, but what about the second? In support of understanding ta daimonia here as false gods, the writer presents the following evidence.

(1) He equates James's "shuddering" with "'trembling', or 'toppling', or 'tottering'," which is "a real problem for idols! (see Isa 40:20; 41:7; Jer 10:4)." However, this series of words moves progressively further away from the semantic range of the verb phrissō, which means "to tremble from fear," "the involuntary reaction of the body in shaking, as in a fever...frequently used for reactions of fear" and not to topple or totter.18

(2) He cites three LXX passages where the verb phrissō occurs, and calls our attention "especially" to Jer. 2:12. However, none of these passages depict false gods as shuddering.19

Besides failing to offer any persuasive evidence for either of the two proposed meanings of ta daimonia, Booker neglects to explain how James could expect his readers to arrive at such complex meaning, the "blending together" of two distinct ideas, from this brief remark.

Another detailed exposition of the "false gods" interpretation of ta daimonia is given by L. Buckler. This writer infers from other New Testament passages (1 Cor. 10:14-22, Acts 17:18 and Rev. 9:20) "that demons and idols are the same". Thus an appropriate sense for daimonia in these texts is "false gods that do not exist." Buckler also cites "the relationship between Mat. 12:24 and 2 Kings 1:2" as evidence for this equation, failing to note the difference between Baal-zebub in 2 Kings and Beelzebul in Matthew (which has several plausible Aramaic etymologies that are unrelated to Baal-zebub).20 Based on the equation of idols and demons, Buckler feels justified in applying passages such as Isaiah 44-45 and Psalm 115 to demons. He summarises: "we've seen that 'demons' of the NT are the same thing as 'idols' of the OT - both are false gods that do not exist." Turning to James 2:19, Buckler proposes that James is alluding to OT passages like 1 Sam. 5:3-4 and Isa. 19:1. The former passage has (the idol of) Dagon (presumably miraculously) falling down and breaking in the presence of the ark of the Lord. The latter passage declares that when the Lord comes to Egypt riding on a swift cloud, "the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them." Buckler avers:
These idols/false gods/demons who don't exist are spoken of in a way that shows God's supremacy over them, and showing that even idols, which don't exist, tremble before God. The lesson for us back in James 2:19 is that even false gods—gods who do not exist!—'fear' God and bow before him, so why don't we more so!21
His paraphrase of James 2:19 is, "If you only have faith (i.e. you believe in one God), you're no better than idols. They had 'faith' too, but they were unable to put it into works because they are just wood and stone". This "non-existent false gods" line of interpretation, which is also suggested by Duncan Heaster,22 is marginally better than the "mentally disturbed humans" interpretation: "divinities" falls within the semantic range of daimonia, and there are substantial biblical associations between demons, idols and false gods, as already observed. Nevertheless, there are numerous reasons why this interpretation is unconvincing.

(1) The parallel between 1 Sam. 5:3-4 and Isa. 19:1 and James 2:19 is limited. Both OT passages concern idols; neither the Hebrew nor the LXX translations mention demons. Moreover, both falling over and breaking (Dagon in 1 Samuel) and trembling (the idols of the Egyptians in Isaiah, e.g. in a strong wind or an earthquake) are things that can happen to inanimate objects.23 While there is obviously an intended irony in the notion of idols falling over and trembling (since these actions, if applied to sentient beings, would imply submission and fear), these OT passages do not attribute belief to idols, as James explicitly does to demons. "Belief" requires sentience, and leaves no room for an ironic double entendre. Also, phrissō is a rare and highly specific verb, and none of the Old Testament texts cited by G. Booker or Buckler explain its use by James, since none of them attribute this action to demons, false gods or idols. By contrast, the interpretation I will offer below is based on a well-documented association between daimonia and phrissō.

(2) Buckler is correct that some biblical passages do imply an association between idols, false gods and demons. This is evident from the use of the word daimonion or daimōn in LXX texts having to do with idolatry (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 95:5[96:5]; Ps. 105:37[106:37]; Isa. 65:3, 11; Bar. 4:7) and from NT texts that imply such an association (1 Cor. 10:19-21; Rev. 9:20).24 However, aside from possibly Isa. 65:3 LXX,25 none of these texts equate daimonia with "false gods that do not exist"; quite the opposite! The implicit claim in most cases, particularly in the NT, is that demons are a sinister reality that lies behind the worship of false gods.26 Moreover, the frequent references to daimonia in the Synoptic Gospel narratives conclusively demonstrate that, whatever early Christians thought daimonia were, they certainly did not regard them as non-existent! (Bear in mind that several Christadelphian writers have recognised the similarities between James 2:19, where demons "believe and shudder," and the Gospel exorcism accounts, where demons acknowledge Jesus and cause their victims to convulse and cry out [e.g., Mark 1:23-26]). Thus, apart from the sentience and action attributed to ta daimonia in James 2:19, the wider usage of this terminology in the NT undermines Buckler's suggestion that it means non-existent false gods.

(3) If ta daimonia refer to non-existent false gods, then James 2:19b contributes nothing to James's argument concerning faith and works. Although this remark is ironic or even sarcastic (as we shall see), it still carries weight in James's argument. Appealing to non-existent beings as evidence for a claim is not clever irony; it is simply illogical. In context, James uses ta daimonia as a counterexample that reduces to absurdity the proposition that pistis without works can save. This counterexample is only successful if ta daimonia actually exist, have pistis without works, and are unsaved. Otherwise, when James declares, "Even ta daimonia believe and shudder," his interlocutor only needs to respond, "No they don't. Ta daimonia don't exist!" Thus, if ta daimonia refers ironically to something that James and his interlocutor regard as non-existent, the argument fails.27

(4) There is another reference to demons in James 3:15 (discussed below) that cannot plausibly refer to non-existent false gods. Remarkably, none of the Christadelphian expositions of James 2:19 that I have consulted mentions or discusses the occurrence of the word daimoniōdēs in James 3:15.

(5) Kai at the beginning of James 2:19b joins the belief of ta daimonia with the belief in one God of James's interlocutor, stated in 2:19a: "You believe... even the demons believe..." Since James 2:19a refers to actual belief by an actual agent, consistency dictates that James 2:19b also refers to actual belief by actual agents.

Thus, we can be quite certain that the sense of "demons" in James 2:19 is not "non-existent false gods" that are actually incapable of believing and shuddering, but a class of beings whose real existence James and his audience assume, just as the Synoptic Gospels do.

3. Proposed Interpretation

3.1. Ta daimonia as Evil Transcendent Beings

Having ruled out that ta daimonia in James 2:19 could plausibly refer either to demon-possessed (mentally disturbed) humans or to non-existent false gods, we are left with the meaning that is the unanimous consensus of lexical authorities and scholarly commentaries: ta daimonia refers to "the demons," that is, to a class of evil transcendent beings.28 Daimonion occurs 63 times in the New Testament, and in nearly all of its occurrences, all modern English translations translate "demon(s)" (the KJV and other older translations have "devil(s)").29 The majority of its occurrences (47) are in the Synoptic Gospels. Only once does the New Testament use a different word for "demon" (daimōn, in Matt. 8:31),30 although the word pneuma is often used synonymously (usually with a negative adjective such as "unclean" or "evil"). The activities of these beings, as described elsewhere in the NT, include possessing and tormenting humans (Synoptic Gospels and Acts; see Luke 11:24-26 for a prototypical description of their behaviour) and inspiring false religious teachings and practices (1 Cor. 10:19-21; 1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 16:13-14). They themselves are destined for eschatological torment and they know this (Matt. 8:29). Of considerable relevance to the interpretation of James 2:19 is that the Synoptic Gospels and Acts depict demons as recognizing Jesus and God and reacting fearfully to their power.31 Although there is no compelling evidence that James knew any of the canonical Gospels in their extant form, there are enough allusions to dominical sayings in the Epistle to make it virtually certain that the author's worldview had been shaped by Jesus traditions (if not by direct experience of Jesus' life and ministry).32 Thus, we can be reasonably certain that James was familiar with Jesus' career as an exorcist, and it is likely that he was also aware of the demons' tendency to respond to Jesus with acknowledgment and fear during exorcisms. Hence, this story line from Jesus traditions probably forms part of the background for James's assertion that the demons "believe and shudder."

3.2. "Shuddering" in Ancient Sources

Aside from exorcism stories from the Jesus tradition, there is another possible source for James's assertion that the demons "believe and shudder." As numerous commentators have noted, the idea of sub-divine beings generally, or demons specifically, "shuddering" before God (or the gods) was a widely used trope in antiquity. As Allison states, "James was not the first to link φρίσσω...to the demonic. Indeed, we have here a far-flung topos".33

3.2.1. Shuddering and Daemons in Greco-Roman Sources

The notion of daemons shuddering appears in Greco-Roman, pagan sources.34 Clement of Alexandria, a Christian writer at the end of the second century, quotes an Orphic fragment that says of Zeus, "Whom demons dread (daimones hon phrissousi), and whom the throng of gods do fear" (Stromata 5.125). Several passages in the Greek Magical Papyri (a collection of ancient Greek spells, rites and magical formulae) likewise refer to demons shuddering before a god. Similar to the Orphic fragment just quoted is this: "I implore you by the seal of the god, before whom all the immortal [gods] of Olympos shudder, and the foremost daemons..." (PGM 3.227).35 Again, "the rushing rivers and the tireless sea, they echo in solitude and the daemons in the cosmos shudder before you, enthralled when they hear your terrible voice" (PGM 4.2541).36 Again, "Be merciful to me who calls you, and listen to me kindly...before whom the daemons shudder and the immortals tremble..." (PGM 4.2829).37 Finally, "Hear me; for I will pronounce the great name, Aôth, which every god reveres, and before whom every daemon shudders, whose orders are fulfilled by every angel" (PGM 12.117-119).38 In these sources, that daemons shudder before a god is a way of expressing that god's greatness and power. The daemons shudder out of inferiority, but not necessarily because they are evil.

The first-century Greco-Roman essayist Plutarch brings out negative connotations of "shuddering" (albeit not in connection with daemons) in his masterful essay On Superstition, in which he compares superstition unfavourably with slavery:
There is a law even for slaves who have given up all hope of freedom, that they may demand a sale, and thus exchange their present master for one more mild. But superstition grants no such exchange; and to find a god whom he shall not fear is impossible for him who fears the gods of his fathers and his kin, who shudders at his saviours (ho phrittōn tous sōtēras), and trembles with terror at those gentle gods from whom we ask wealth, welfare, peace, concord, and success in our best efforts in speech and action... But how much more dire, think you, is the lot of those for whom there is no escape, no running away, no chance to revolt? For a slave there is an altar to which he can flee, and there are many of our shrines where even robbers may find sanctuary, and men who are fleeing from the enemy, if once they lay hold upon a statue of a god, or a temple, take courage again. These are the very things that most inspire a shuddering fear and dread (phrittei kai phobeitai kai dedoiken) in the superstitious man, and yet it is in them that those who in fear of the most dreadful fate place their hopes...Thus unhappy superstition, by its excess of caution in trying to avoid everything suggestive of dread, unwittingly subjects itself to every sort of dread. (De Superstitione 4)39
Plutarch also compares superstition to atheism. This comparison is particularly relevant to James 2:19b, since it also links fear with a negative kind of religious belief:
What say you? The man who does not believe in the existence of the gods is unholy? And is not he who believes (nomizōn) in such gods as the superstitious believe in a partner to opinions far more unholy?... You see what kind of thoughts the superstitious have about the gods; they assume that the gods are rash, faithless, fickle, vengeful, cruel, and easily offended; and, as a result, the superstitious man is bound to hate and fear the gods... The atheist thinks there are no gods; the superstitious man wishes there were none, but believes (pisteuei) in them against his will; for he is afraid not to believe. (De Superstitione 10-11)40
Thus, in Greco-Roman literature, we find that "shuddering" characterizes the attitude of sub-divine beings (daemons) toward the gods (particularly the high god Zeus), and also characterizes the tortured "belief" of the superstitious (whose belief consists of fear and hatred), in contrast to authentic piety.

3.2.2. Shuddering and Demons in Early Jewish and Christian Literature

Such ideas are also found in early Jewish and Christian sources, as described by Allison.41 The Book of the Watchers narrates how "fear and trembling seized" the watcher angels when Enoch declared their divine punishment to them (1 Enoch 13.3). A prayer found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, 4QSongs of the Sagea, after extolling God's greatness, continues, "And I, the Sage, declare the grandeur of his radiance in order to frighten and terr[ify] all the spirits of the ravaging angels and the bastard spirits, demons, Lilith, owls and [jackals...]" (4Q510 1.4-5).42 In the long recension of the Testament of Abraham, Death personified "shudders and trembles" (ephrizen kai etromazen) before God (T. Abr. RecLng 16.3).43 In Justin's Dialogue with Trypho (mid-second century), he declares, "You can see, therefore, that the hidden power of God was in the crucified Christ, before whom even the demons shudder (kai ta daimonia phrissei), as do all the powers and authorities of the earth" (Dial. 49.8).44 Later Christian writings that refer to demons or angels shuddering include Testament of Solomon 2.1, Pseudo-Clementine Homilies 5.5, Acts of Philip 132, Pseudo-Ignatius, Philippians 3.5, and Lactantius, de Ira Dei23.45

In this Jewish and Christian literature, we find a variation on the theme found in Greco-Roman literature: shuddering characterizes the attitude of demons, fallen angels and Death toward the one God, not only because God is great but also because the demons are evil and know that God can or will defeat and punish them. Their shuddering is similar to that of superstitious humans who, according to Plutarch, believe in God but only out of tortured fear. The way demons and spirits respond to Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels reflects the same picture because the fear they show is explicitly fear of punishment (Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7; Matt. 8:28).

3.3. Demonic Pseudo-Wisdom in James 3:15

As noted earlier, James's epistle makes one other mention of demons that is typically ignored in Christadelphian expositions of James 2:19:
13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic (Greek: daimoniōdēs). 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. (James 3:13-17 NABRE)
Here, James contrasts two kinds of wisdom: that which comes "from above" and produces humility, gentleness, peace, etc., and that which "does not come down from above" and produces jealousy, selfish ambition and disorder. The latter kind of wisdom is described using three successive adjectives, "earthly, unspiritual, demonic" (James 3:15). These adjectives form a crescendo: "James, using a type of antithetical parallelism reminiscent of the wisdom literature, declares through a series of three adjectives arranged in ascending order of strength that the sectarian ‘wisdom’ is in fact demonic."46 The pseudo-wisdom is not from heaven but the earth; is not from the Spirit but is unspiritual; is not divine but is demonic. While some scholars believe daimoniōdēs here means demon-like, most agree that James is naming demons as the source of this pseudo-wisdom.47 Either meaning implies James's belief in the real existence of demons. Thus we have corroborative testimony from within the epistle that the real existence of demons is presupposed in James 2:19b.

3.4. The Contribution of James 2:19b to the Argument of James 2:14-26

The three key points we have learned so far are (1) that ta daimonia in James 2:19 refers to demons, i.e. malignant spirit beings, and not to mentally disturbed humans or non-existent gods; (2) that James believed that such beings really existed; and (3) that the idea of demons shuddering before God in fear (particularly in fear of impending punishment) was a well-worn motif in ancient literature—Greco-Roman, Jewish and Christian. While it is possible that this general motif forms the entire background to the statement of James 2:19 that demons "believe and shudder," it is likely that the idea has been specifically influenced by Jesus traditions according to which demons reacted with intense fear to Jesus during exorcisms. In light of all of this, we can only conclude that with "Even the demons believe and shudder," James is making a statement that he regards as literally true. Demons actually exist and actually believe in God and shudder in fear of him. The question that remains is, how does such a remark contribute to James's wider argument about faith and works in James 2:14-26?

Most commentators have observed the use of irony or sarcasm in James 2:19 in that James commends his interlocutor for believing that there is one God (kalōs poieis, "you do well")—the same interlocutor that he is about to call a "senseless person" (v. 20)!48 The idea is that belief in one God, while correct and fundamentally important, is by itself (without "deeds") insufficient. James then adds the coup de grâce, identifying demons as a stark example of beings that believe in one God, and even demonstrate their sincerity by shuddering, but which are obviously not saved because their deeds are evil.49 (Like Plutarch's superstitious man, their "belief" in God is driven by terror rather than genuine piety.) The role of the remark in James 2:19b, then, is to provide a clear counterexample to the claim that faith without deeds is sufficient. And, as was discussed earlier, the counterexample only contributes to the argument if demons actually exist.

4. Conclusion

Demonology is not a major theme in the Epistle of James; it appears twice in passing. Nor is it a major concern for most other New Testament writers. Nevertheless, it is often the case in Scripture that a writer makes an important statement on topic B while his main concern is with topic A (one thinks of the majestic Christological statement of 1 Cor. 8:6, which occurs within a discourse on idolatry, or the Bible's most important statement about gender equality, a brief aside in a discourse on the Abrahamic covenant [Gal. 3:28]). One cannot dismiss the validity of a theological inference simply because it was not the biblical writer's primary concern within the context where it appears.

In texts where demons are mentioned, like James 2:19, it is evident that the earliest Christians believed demons really existed. This early Christian belief—while strange to the modern mind and in need of some reconceptualization—cannot be dismissed by Christians today, particularly because of how central exorcisms were to the public ministry of Jesus. One might go as far as to say that "an understanding of the demonic is absolutely essential to a proper interpretation of the life and ministry of Jesus".50

My main reason for writing this article is a perception that Christadelphian interpreters of Scripture have failed to appreciate the implications of James 2:19b for reconstructing New Testament demonology. This article should therefore be read in the context of my much longer article on the accommodation theory of demon-possession and exorcism in the Synoptic Gospels (summarized on my blog here).51 The accommodation theory—long abandoned by biblical scholars but still stubbornly maintained by many Christadelphians—basically holds that Jesus, the apostles and/or the New Testament writers did not actually believe in the reality of demons and exorcism but used such language to accommodate the ignorance of their ill-informed audiences. James 2:19 provides one more instance where this theory breaks down when subjected to close exegetical examination.

The core aim of the Christadelphian movement has been restorationist, i.e. to recover and restore the beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians. However, the case of demonology shows that the restorationist ethos has been selectively applied: where the beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians have proven embarrassing to "Enlightened" modern sensibilities, the conclusion has been that the text cannot mean what it says; it must be made to mean something else. This raises the question, "Where else has Christadelphian restorationism been selective to the detriment of exegetical accuracy?" This is a question that threatens the very legitimacy of the Christadelphian sectarian project.


  • 1 Greek (NA28): σὺ πιστεύεις ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν ὁ θεός, καλῶς ποιεῖς· καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια πιστεύουσιν καὶ φρίσσουσιν.
  • 2 Johnson rightly comments that by positioning kai at the beginning of the sentence the writer has made it emphatic: "The position of the kai demands its being read as ‘even’ rather than ‘also’" (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [Doubleday: New York, 1995], 241).
  • 3 "The sentence needs to be filled out; even the demons believe ‘that God is one’" (Johnson, Letter of James, 241).
  • 4 Duncan Heaster, The Real Devil (3d ed.; Surrey: Carelinks, 2012), 206-207. Content can be accessed online at http://www.christadelphia.net/rd4-2-3.htm.
  • 5 "That James was thinking of the man called Legion and his companion (2 are mentioned in Matt 8; one only in Mark 5) seems clear. They in their deranged state of mind may have believed in only one God, but that fact didn't help them until they were cured by Christ and then could put their faith into action" (Wes Booker, "Comments for June 8," in Daily Bible Readings, accessed at http://www.dailyreadings.org.uk/default.asp?act=notesdisplay&displaytype=day&m=6&d=8).
  • 6 Heaster, The Real Devil, 206-207.
  • 7 Heaster, The Real Devil, 206-207.
  • 8 Wes Booker, "Comments for June 8".
  • 9 Alfred Norris, quoted in W. Booker, "Comments for June 8".
  • 10 George Booker, "James 2," in Agora Bible Commentary (accessed at http://www.christadelphianbooks.org/agora/comm/59_jam/jam03.html).
  • 11 H. P. Mansfield, The Christadelphian Expositor: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition of the Scriptures: James to Jude (West Beach & Beverley: Logos Publications, n.d.), 45. Can be accessed at http://mp3.christadelphian.or.tz/sites/default/files/books/from-james-to-jude---expositor.pdf
  • 12 Frank G. Jannaway, Christadelphian Answers (Houston: Herald, n.d.), 107. Can be accessed at http://www.antipas.org/pdf_files/christadelphian_answers.pdf.
  • 13 Ron Abel, Wrested Scriptures: A Christadelphian Handbook of Suggested Explanations to Difficult Passages (Pasadena: Geddes, n.d.), 178. Can be accessed at http://www.christadelphian.uk.com/Booklets/Wrested%20Scriptures.pdf.
  • 14 Jonathan Burke, Satan and Demons: A Reply to Anthony Buzzard (unpublished, 2005), 80, 170. Can be accessed at https://acbm.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Satan-And-Demons.doc.
  • 15 W. F. Arndt, F. W. Danker, F. W. Gingrich, and W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3d ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 210.
  • 16 Arndt, Danker, Gingrich, and Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 209. As Riley explains, “Δαιμονίζομαι is found once in the New Testament as a verb in the phrase ‘cruelly tormented by a demon’ (Matt 15:22); all other of the dozen further occurrences are of the participle meaning ‘one who is demonized’, ‘a demoniac’ (e.g., Mark 1:32).” (G. J. Riley, “Demons,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible [ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst; 2d ed.; Leiden: Brill, 1999], 236).
  • 17 Thomas Farrar, "When an Unclean Spirit Goes out of a Person": An Assessment of the Accommodation Theory of Demon Possession and Exorcism in the Synoptic Gospels (unpublished, 2015), 19-20. The phenomenon of spirit-possession defies ordinary linguistic conventions whereby a verb has a single subject or direct object. A word spoken by or to a demon-possessed human is in one sense spoken by or to that human (their vocal chords/their bodily presence) and in another sense spoken by or to the possessing demon (i.e. the external agent controlling their vocal chords and body). Thus, interchange between daimonion and daimonizomai within a particular narrative context in no way implies that the writer conflated these two terms. Their respective meanings are morphologically clear. This is why no lexical authority considers "demon-possessed human" to be one of the meanings of daimonion.
  • 18 Arndt, Danker, Gingrich, and Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 1065; Johnson, Letter of James, 241.
  • 19 Job 4:15 LXX reads, "And a spirit came upon my face, and my flesh and hair quivered (Greek: phrissō)" (NETS). Dan. 7:15 Theodotion reads, "As for me, Daniel, my spirit shuddered (Greek: phrissō) in my possession, and the visions of my head were troubling me." Jer. 2:11-12 LXX reads, "Will nations change their gods? And these are no gods. But my people have changed their glory for one from which they will not profit. The sky was appalled at this and shuddered (Greek: phrissō) more and more, says the Lord". Two other passages transmitted with the LXX where phrissō occurs are Judith 16:10 (which says of Judith, "The Persians shuddered (Greek: phrissō) at her daring, and the Medes were alarmed at her boldness") and 4 Maccabees 14:9, which says of seven Maccabean martyrs, "Now, as we hear of those young men's affliction, we shudder" (Greek: phrissō). In four of these passages, humans are the subjects of "shuddering"; in one poetic context, it is the heavens that are said to "shudder." In no instance are false gods said to "shudder."
  • 20 On the etymology of Beelzebul and its meaning in the Synoptic Gospels, see E. C. B. MacLaurin, "Beelzeboul," Novum Testamentum 20 (1978): 156-60; Dieter Lührman, Das Markusevangelium (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1987), 36; Duane F. Watson, "Devil," in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2:183; Heinz Schürmann, Das Lukasevangelium: Zweiter Teil (Freiburg: Herder, 1994), 230; Clinton Wahlen, Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits in the Synoptic Gospels (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 125-26; Camille Focant, The Gospel According to Mark: A Commentary, trans. Leslie Robert Keylock (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004/2012), 140.
  • 21 L. Buckler, Even the Demons Believe God and Tremble, accessed at https://sites.google.com/site/christadelphianinfo/articles/exposition/evendemons. Aside from the meaning of ta daimonia here, Buckler seems to have misconstrued the take-home message of James 2:19, which is not a call to fear God (as appropriate as that reaction may be). Rather, James is arguing that even belief in God combined with intense fear is of no avail if not accompanied by deeds, as the case of ta daimonia makes clear.
  • 22 Heaster, The Real Devil, 206-207.
  • 23 For example, just as Egypt's idols are said to "tremble" at Yahweh's presence in Isa. 19:1, so thresholds "tremble" at Yahweh's presence in Isa. 6:4, while Isa. 7:2 describes trees "trembling" in the wind (the same verb נוע is used in all three cases).
  • 24 Acts 17:18, though cited by Buckler, does not necessarily imply such an association from an early Christian perspective, since the word daimonion is placed on the lips of Athenian philosophers in their description of Paul's teaching, and so probably has the neutral sense "divinities" rather than the negative sense "demons" (Arndt, Danker, Gingrich, and Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 210).
  • 25 While Isaiah 65:3 MT indicts the people of Israel for provoking God by "sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks" (ESV), the LXX adds that these offerings are made "to the demons, which do not exist" (Greek: τοῖς δαιμονίοις, ἃ οὐκ ἔστιν). This passage may be denying any real existence to demons. This is the view of Kelly: "The Greek [of Isaiah 65:3 LXX] specifies the object of the worship as 'demons who do not exist'; that is, there are no spiritual entities corresponding to the idols" (Henry Ansgar Kelly, The Devil, Demonology and Witchcraft: The Development of Christian Beliefs in Evil Spirits [rev. ed.; Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1974], 20). (Note that Kelly nonetheless finds that in James 2:19, "James is obviously thinking of living beings" [ibid.]) Other scholars see Isaiah 65:3 LXX differently: "The appearance of this last phrase in the Septuagint (it is missing in the MT) is difficult to account for except as a theologically inspired gloss, derived perhaps from Isa. 65:11 via Deut. 32:17. Although at face value 65:3 could be taken to mean demons simply do not exist, such a view would ill suit a Hellenistic context in which the vast majority of Jews and Gentiles alike believed in various spirit beings. It is far more likely that the Septuagint is making the same point as Paul in 1 Cor 8:1-3: whatever existence the demons/false gods may have, they are unworthy of worship or the name 'god'. To the extent that ontological issues may be in view, the verse would affirm that these spirits have a completely derivative, contingent existence which is wholly dependent on the creative power of the living God-an existence which can and will be taken away when their fraudulent claims to deity are exposed" (Sean M. McDonough, Christ as Creator: Origins of a New Testament Doctrine [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009], 161); "The divine charge against the idolatry of God's people includes this accusation, 'they sacrifice in the gardens and burn incense on bricks to the demons [δαιμονίοις, inferior divinity or (evil) spirit], which do not exist' (v. 3b). The Hebrew lacks 'to the demons, which do not exist,' but states simply, 'sacrificing in gardens and burning incense upon bricks' (Isa 65:3b RSV). By the time of the New Testament and already intimated in Greek Isaiah, the question about the existence of pagan gods was being answered by suggesting that the beings previously referred to as gods were actually demons, spirits created by God who rebelled against God. Therefore, they, like humans, were creatures, not other gods. Isaiah 65:3b LXX seems somewhat ambivalent about even this mention of demons, as evidenced by its added qualification, 'who do not exist.' However, a similar later substitution of 'demon' for a god in 65:11 LXX does not mention any doubt about its existence" (William S. Kurz, S.J., "Paul's Witness to Biblical Monotheism as Isaiah's Servant in Acts," in Unity and Diversity in the Gospels and Paul: Essays in Honor of Frank J. Matera, ed. Christopher W. Skinner and Kelly R. Iverson [Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012], 123). Isaiah LXX contains two other mentions of daimonia which both imply their existence: according to Isaiah 13:21 LXX, the prophet foretells that after the desolation of Babylon, "there demons will dance," and a similar oracle is spoken against Idumea in Isaiah 34:14 LXX. In view of this contextual information, it seems clear that the translator's intention in Isaiah 65:3 is not to absolutely deny the existence of daimonia. Perhaps the writer is using daimonia specifically in the sense of "divinities" (i.e. the gods to whom idolaters sacrifice), without the technical, negative sense that would later accrue to the word. Alternatively, the writer is very succinctly making a polemical assertion about the gods to whom Israel sacrifices: they do not exist as gods, they are only demons.
  • 26 Consider the following summaries focusing mainly on Paul's views expressed in 1 Cor. 10:19-21: Paul’s “belief in the real existence of demons appears clearly in his teaching concerning heathen sacrifices” (Edward Langton, Essentials of Demonology: A Study of Jewish and Christian Doctrine, Its Origin and Development [London: Epworth, 1949], 225); "For Paul witchcraft is meddling with demons. But there can also be intercourse with demons in the normal heathen cultus (1 C. 10:20f.). While idols are nothing, and the Christian enjoys freedom, demons stand behind paganism" (W. Foerster, "δαίμων,"  Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [ed. Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964], 2:17); demons "are the spiritual reality behind the apparent nothingness of idols which the heathen worship (1 Cor 10:20-21; Rev 9:20)" (David George Reese, "Demons," Anchor Bible Dictionary, 2:142); "Pagane Götter sind für Paulus als Götter nicht-existent, da Göttlichkeit allein im Sinne des christlichen Monotheismus definiert werden kann...Jedoch verstecken sich für Paulus hinter dem heidniscen Opferkult real existierende Dämonen, mit denen beim Schlachtopfer in Kontakt getreten wird" (Peter Lampe, "Die dämonologischen Implikationen von I Korinther 8 und 10 vor dem Hintergrund paganer Zeugnisse," in Die Dämonen: Die Dämonologie der israelitisch-jüdischen und frühchristlichen Literatur im Kontext ihrer Umwelt, ed. Armin Lange, Hermann Lichtenberger, and K. F. Diethard Römheld [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003], 598).
  • 27 One might claim that while James does not believe demons exist, his interlocutor does believe they exist, and therefore James uses the argument knowing that it will be persuasive to his interlocutor. However, this claim amounts to eisegetical speculation and special pleading. On what objective grounds can we posit either James's disbelief in demons (given that he mentions them here and also in 3:15), or a disagreement between James and his interlocutor on the existence of demons? The topic under consideration, and the topic of disagreement, is the efficacy of faith without works, not the existence of demons. Besides, it is not even clear that James's interlocutor is an actual person here (as opposed to "the conversational device of...an imaginary opponent", so Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], 125), and in any case James would presumably want his argument to be persuasive to all of his readers and not only the "senseless person" he is addressing.
  • 28 See definition from lexicon quoted above; "Although originally used of both good and bad deities, δαιμόνιον came, in post-exilic Judaism, to refer to malevolent spirits closely associated with Satan. James’ audience was presumably familiar with a large body of lore surrounding them. They were often identified with pagan gods (LXX Deut 32.17; 1 Cor 10.20); held to inflict disease (Sib. Or. 3.331; Mt 12.22); understood as sources of temptation and vice (T. Jud. 23.1); reported to indwell or possess unfortunate human beings (Mk 5.9; 9.26); and said to have issued from the mating of the sons of God with human women (Gen 6.1-4; 1 En. 6-21). But all that matters here is the notion that they, although corrupt, nonetheless recognize the ultimate power in the universe" (Dale C. Allison, Jr., James: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary [London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013], 477-78); "Dans la religion grecque, le mot δαιμόνιον désigne une divinité inférieure. La Septante traduit par δαιμόνια les termes qui, en hébreu, s’appliquent aux idoles, aux faux dieux. L’expression est usuelle aussi dans les évangiles; elle désigne les mauvais esprits (Mc 1,34; Lc 4,33, etc.)" (Jacqueline Assaël and Élian Cuvillier, L’Épître de Jacques [Genève: Labor et Fides, 2013], 204); "Although ta daimonia could in the Greek world denote a positive divine entity (see Euripides, Bacchae 894; Plato, Apology 26B; Acts 17:18), here the designation is shaped by the world of Torah. In the LXX ta daimonia are identified with false gods (Deut 32:17; Pss 95:5; 105:37; Isa 65:3; also 1 Cor 10:20-21; 1 Tim 4:1; Rev 9:20). In the gospel tradition, ta daimonia are identified with the ‘unclean spirits’ who torment humans as the minions of Satan or Beelzebul (see Matt 7:22; 9:32-34; 10:8; 11:18; 12:2-24-28; 17:18; Luke 4:33; 8:2, 26-39)" (Johnson, Letter of James, 241).
  • 29 As noted earlier, only in Acts 17:18 is the word usually not translated "demons" but something like "divinities," reflecting the wider Greco-Roman understanding of the word as opposed to the Judeo-Christian understanding (it is here placed on the lips of Athenian philosophers).
  • 30 According to Foerster, both the NT writers and Josephus follow the LXX in preferring daimonion over daimōn: "Δαίμων is avoided because it is too closely associated with positive religious elements, whereas δαιμόνιον indicates from the very first the hostile spirits of popular belief" (W. Foerster, "δαίμων," 2:12).
  • 31 "Demons, too, believe that there is but one God—and they know that the one God is YHWH, the God of Israel (see Mark 1:24; 3:11; Acts 16:17; 19:15)" (Scot McKnight, The Letter of James [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011], 243); "the NT knows of the monotheism of demons (Mk 1:24; 5:7; Acts 16:17; 19:15) and their fear before Christ, whom they recognize (Mk. 1:23, 24; 5:7)" (Davids, Epistle of James, 126); "The demons express a belief in the divine elsewhere in the NT (Mark 1:25; 3:7; Acts 16:17; 19:15) and exhibit fear before God as they confront Jesus (Mark 1:23, 24; 5:7)" (Ralph P. Martin, James [Waco: Word Books, 1988], 89); "Les démons désignent dans la Grèce antique, chez Platon ou chez Xénophon, des divinités intermédiaires, ou l’esprit guidant ou conseillant l’homme. Rare dans la LXX (Dt 32,17; Ps 90,6; Tobit 3,8), on les retrouve en force dans les récits néo-testamentaires d’exorcismes (Mc 1,34.39 etc…), où ils reconnaissent Jésus et craignent sa puissance: cf. Mc 1,24; 5,7 et surtout p. ex. 1,34; 3,11-12. C’est probablement à de telles traditions que Jc peut fair allusion" (François Vouga, L’Épitre de Saint Jacques [Genève: Labor et Fides, 1984], 88); "Ces créatures proclament leur foi en Dieu, et aussi en Jésus (Mc 1,24; 5,7; Ac 16,17; 19,15, etc.), mais elle ne leur procure que des frémissements de crainte" (Assaël and Cuvillier, L’Épître de Jacques, 204).
  • 32 "The fabric of the Letter is replete with allusions to and rhetorical emulations of the Jesus tradition" (J. S. Kloppenborg, "Diaspora Discourse: The Construction of Ethos in James", New Testament Studies 53 (2007): 251. For a discussion of Jesus traditions in James including a table of likely allusions to sayings of Jesus, see Robert J. Foster, The Significance of Exemplars for the Interpretation of the Letter of James (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 51-53.)
  • 33 Allison, James, 477.
  • 34 The translation "daemons" serves as a reminder that Greco-Romans did not regard these sub-divine beings as uniformly evil.
  • 35 Text: ὃν πάντες Ὀλύμ[που ἀθάνατοι φρίσσο[υσι θεοὶ καὶ δαίμονες ἔξοχ’ ἄρ[ιστοι | κ[αὶ] πέλαγος σιγᾶ[ν ἐπιτ]έλλεται (from Karl Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 2 vols. [Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1928, 1931], 1:42; translation based on Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:43).
  • 36 Text: καὶ ποταμοὶ κελαδοῦντες ἰδ’ ἀατρύγετός τε | θάλασσα, ἠχὼ ἐρημαίη καὶ δαίμονες οἱ κατὰ κόσμον || φρίσσουσί σε, μάκαιρα, ἀκούοντες ὄπα δεινήν. (from Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:152; translation based on Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:153).
  • 37 Text: ἡ πολυχώρητον κόσμον νυκτὸς | ἀμφιέπουσα, δαίμονες ἣν φρίσσουσιν || καὶ ἀθάνατοι τρουμέουσιν, | κυδιάνειρα θεά, πολυώνυμε, καλλιγένεια, ταυρῶπι (Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:162; translation based on Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 1:163).
  • 38 Text: [ἐ]πάκουσόν μου, ὅτι μέλλω τὸ μέγα ὄνο<μα> λέ|γειν· Ἀώθ, ὃν πᾶς θ(εὸς) προσκυνεῖ καὶ π[ᾶ]ς δαίμων φρίσσει, ᾧ πᾶς ἄγγελος τὰ ἐπιτασ|σόμενα ἀποτελεῖ. (Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 2:65; translation based on Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 2:65).
  • 39 Plutarch, Moralia, Vol. II (trans. Frank Cole Babbitt; Loeb Classic Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928), 453.
  • 40 Plutarch, Moralia, 483-85, 489-91.
  • 41 Allison, James, 477.
  • 42 Florentino García Martínez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English (trans. Wilfred G. E. Watson; Leiden: Brill, 1994), 371.
  • 43 So Allison, James, 477.
  • 44 Translation adapted from Thomas P. Halton, St. Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, ed. Michael Slusser, trans. Thomas B. Falls (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 76.
  • 45 See Allison, James, 477; Johnson, Letter of James, 247.
  • 46 Davids, Epistle of James, 152, emphasis added.
  • 47 "While it is possible that this biblical hapax legomenon means simply that such people do deeds similar to demons (so Laws, 161, 163; Cantinat, 190; Hart, 84), in light of the closeness of this vice list to that in 1QS 4:1ff., the dualism observed elsewhere in James, and the use of the concept in the early church (cf. Hermas Sim. 9.22; 9.23.5; Mt. 6:13; cf. Davids, 39-79, who points to a long tradition connecting temptation to Satan) it would seem more reasonable to take James as intending that such deeds were inspired by demons" (Davids, Epistle of James, 153); "The adjective daimoniōdēs is a NT hapax and unattested before Christian literature. The construction with ōdēs may suggest ‘demon-like’ (Hort, 84), but in context it seems to imply ‘having its origin in demons’ (Adamson, 152)" (Johnson, Letter of James, 272); "This antithetical parallelism shows what constitutes true and false wisdom…The climactic term is clearly the most pejorative: daimoniōdēs (literally ‘pertaining to demons’) is found only here in the entire Bible. This false wisdom is demonic or comes from demons or demonic influence as opposed to the wisdom that is from above" (Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Hebrews, James and Jude [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007], 501); "James goes on to say that false wisdom is not only godless and subhuman but positively ‘devilish.’ The false wisdom is not merely neutral, spurous, or inadequate—but positively demonic: see 1 Tim. 4:1" (James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976], 152); "Δαιμονιώδης...désigne ce qui ressemble ou ce qui a trait au monde des démons” (Vouga, L’Épitre de Saint Jacques, 106); "Even worse, the ‘wisdom’ in mind is demonic (δαιμονιώδης, found only here in the NT; cf. Symmachus’ translation of Ps 90:6). Some interpreters understand James to mean that the behavior of those described in 3:14 is only ‘similar’ to the behavior of demons (Hort, 84; Cantinat, 190; Laws, 161, 163). In that sense, the misdeeds of those whom James attacks are being compared to demonic activity (2:19). But something more radical is being suggested. The behavior of those in question is thought to be instigated by the demons themselves (so Moo, 134; Davids, 153; Adamson, 152-53)" (Martin, James, 132); "False wisdom, in short, does not come from God; that is, instead of deriving from the heavenly, it derives from the earth; instead of abounding in God’s Spirit, it is unspiritual; and instead of coming from God’s Spirit, it derives from evil spirits” (McKnight, Letter of James, 307-308).
  • 48 The words kalōs poieis are “half-ironical” (Allison, James, 475); "The words You believe are not, we think, here addressed to anyone specifically identified in James’s mind; and not, we think, a question (Westcott, Hort, von Soden, Nestlé, and others); but, like ‘Well done,’ ahsant, a familiar Palestinian phrase, ironically affirmative (Mayor, Ropes, Oesterley, and others)" (Adamson, Epistle of James, 125); "«tu fais bien». Selon Moo, «… Il n’est donc pas étonnant que Jacques approuve l’assentiment à cette doctrine: tu fais bien. Mais le fait qu’il ajoute aussitôt que les démons y croient aussi, suggère qu’il a l’intention de mêler l’ironie à son éloge.»" (Assaël and Cuvillier, L’Épître de Jacques, 204); "It is not at all unusual, then, that James should commend assent to this doctrine: You do well. But the fact that James goes on immediately to ascribe the same belief to demons suggests that more than a little irony is intended in the commendation" (Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James: An Introduction and Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], 106); "The claim to believe that the God of Israel is the one and only God is insufficient. James turns to biting sarcasm or at least irony: ‘you do well.’ Some suggest James means to agree with his interlocutor as in, ‘So, you are right.’ James, however, is not kind to his opponent—2:14-16 uses words like ‘useless,’ and 2:20 calls the opponent a ‘senseless person.’ It is more likely that ‘you do well’ is a biting comment" (McKnight, Letter of James, 242-43); "In this verse he attempts to state in one sentence—obviously certain of agreement from his partner—the content of the ‘faith without works’ which is in question: ‘That God is one’ (ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν ὁ θεός). He does so in order then to strap it to the whipping post: Some faith! Even the demons believe that! The irony is unmistakable" (Martin Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James [rev. Heinrich Greeven; trans. Michael A. Williams; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964/1976], 158); "The confession is in accordance with true belief, so James adds a semi-ironic καλῶς ποιεῖς (the author certainly believed this truth with all his heart, following the tradition of Jesus, Mk. 12:29). Such belief is indeed necessary, but not enough for salvation" (Davids, Epistle of James, 125); "James says: ‘So you say you believe God is one. Good for you; however, so do demons, and they are shuddering in their belief—fearing the wrath of God to come. A lot of good that faith did them.’ The sarcasm in James 2:19 is hard to miss" (Witherington III, Letters and Homilies, 476); "“you do well: The phrase kalōs poieis is here clearly meant to be sarcastic, perhaps in direct contrast to the kalōs poieite in 2:8" (Johnson, Letter of James, 241).
  • 49 "The logic is clear. Demons are not atheists but rather have religious ‘doctrines’ (1 Tim 4.10), among which is monotheism, and shuddering proves their sincerity. But to no avail" (Allison, James, 476); "The point James is now driving home is that a Christian creed without corresponding Christian conduct will save neither devil nor man" (Adamson, Epistle of James, 126); "Demons, too, believe that there is but one God—and they know that the one God is YHWH, the God of Israel (see Mark 1:24; 3:11; Acts 16:17; 19:15). But—and her one must fill in the lines to express James’s tone—at least they shudder and shake in God’s presence! James’s example is ad absurdum. While it is possible that James uses the shuddering of the demons as evidence that faith produces some kind of action (works), it is more likely that he is casting the interlocutor—and therefore the workless followers of Jesus—in negative light. They are worse than demons! Demons shudder in the presence of God, but the workless messianists are seemingly oblivious to the superficiality of their faith and the doom they face if they do not turn from their callousness. James has tied together genuine faith in God, loving God, and loving others." (McKnight, Letter of James, 243); "Believing that there is one God (intellectual acknowledgment) is different from believing in (εἰς, eis, into) the God who is one. Moo (2000: 131) points out the possibility of some irony here. At least the demons have the sense to shudder, which suggests that their ‘faith’ has more reality to it than the faith of those who claim to believe but do not do the deeds of faith." (Dan G. McCartney, James [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008], 160-61); "“To believers who pride themselves on right belief—and in James 2:18-19 faith clearly means something other than what it usually means for James, not trust in or active dependence on God, but rather mere belief that God exists—James says: ‘So you say you believe God is one. Good for you; however, so do demons, and they are shuddering in their belief—fearing the wrath of God to come. A lot of good that faith did them.’ The sarcasm in James 2:19 is hard to miss. The demons are the ultimate example of faith divorced from praxis, of right confession divorced from right living" (Witherington III, Letters and Homilies, 476); "“The faith that declares ‘God is One’ is obviously not the ‘faith’ that James sees as adequate. It is, rather, a mockery of true faith, a matter of cognition or confession but not of genuine ‘love of God’ (see 2:5), a fact obvious from the recognition given by demons to the true God even while they shudder in fear" (Johnson, Letter of James, 247); "The point is that the knowledge of who God is does not save them; in fact, it is this very knowledge which makes them shudder (and that very name which was used by exorcists to drive them out!) A faith which cannot go beyond this level is worse than useless" (Davids, Epistle of James, 126).
  • 50 Reese, "Demons," 2:142
  • 51 Farrar, Assessment of the Accommodation Theory.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Saved by grace through faith but judged according to works?

Disclaimer: I write some posts which reflect careful study of Scripture and interaction with scholarly sources. I write others which represent thinking aloud on matters I haven't studied in any great depth. This post falls firmly into the latter category.

One of the most oft-quoted passages of Scripture, especially in Evangelical Christian churches, reads as follows:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
This text appears to declare in straightforward fashion that salvation is not the result of works. There are several other similar passages in the Pauline corpus (Romans 3:23-28; 4:1-6; Galatians 2:15-16).

However, if we look at passages in the New Testament which describe the Final Judgment, they consistently declare that judgment will be on the basis of works.
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matthew 16:27) 
28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-29)
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:12-13) 
See also especially Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 2:5-8 and Revelation 2:23.

All of this raises a conundrum: if God's people are justified by faith and not by works, why is it that judgment is according to works? Some liberal scholars might argue that Scripture is inconsistent in this matter: some New Testament writers believed that salvation depended on works, but Paul did not. The claim of inconsistency fails, however, inasmuch as Paul himself refers to judgment according to works. It is unlikely that a writer as intellectually and theologically sophisticated as Paul was incoherent on this point. Thus we ought to regard the conundrum as a paradox and not a contradiction, and to seek a theological solution.

One solution could be that those who believe have their bad deeds blotted out by the blood of Christ, so that when the books are opened, only good deeds remained. There is certainly some truth in this; the imputation of righteousness (Romans 4:22-24) explains how people can receive a favourable verdict from a just and holy God despite having sinned. However, the link to the atoning work of Christ is not made explicit any of the judgment passages above. A favourable verdict may require imputation of righteousness according to faith and through the blood of Christ, but it is also associated with what the individual has done (and not done).

Here is how I see the solution to this conundrum. People will, in a sense, be judged according to their faith. But how is faith measured objectively? By works of faith! Works are the 'units of measurement' of faith. As James says,
But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. (James 2:18)
Similarly, throughout the 'Hall of Faith' passage in Hebrews 11, the faith of people is demonstrated by what they did (and refrained from doing).

It is not as though the Lord needs to see our works in order to know whether we have faith. He knows each heart and mind (Revelation 2:23) and he knows who are His (2 Timothy 2:19). However, in the Last Judgment He will refer to our deeds as objective evidence to verify His ruling in the hearing of the one judged and any others present.

There is an interesting phrase that bookends the Epistle to the Romans: "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5; 16:26). While this phrase is not directly contrasted with "the works of the law", I think this term sums up how Paul regarded the behaviour of those justified by faith as distinct from those who trusted in works. Works righteousness says, 'Let me try to earn God's favour by keeping His commandments.' Faith righteousness says, 'I can't earn God's favour by keeping His commandments. Let me trust in His mercy which is extended because of what Jesus did on the cross.' However, it does not go on and say, 'So it doesn't matter how I live.' It recognizes that faith, too, is a way of life and not merely a verbal or mental assent. Behaviour is a reflection of what is in the heart. If I truly believe in my heart, I will have obedience to show for it. True faith cannot be divorced from works.

Faith begins with a single step but is in fact a lifelong journey, and it is the one who "persists" (Romans 2:6), "perseveres" (1 Timothy 4:16; Hebrews 10:36; James 1:10) and "endures" (Matthew 10:22; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 14:12) who will reap the reward (Galatians 6:9). Of course, it is the Lord who by His power enables us to endure (Romans 15:5; Colossians 1:11). It is not by our own willpower, the arm of flesh, that we persevere in doing good and refusing evil. On the other hand, we do not become automatons the moment we receive Jesus. We choose whether or not to abide in Him.

The take-home message is this: do not try to earn salvation through works, and do not try to coast to salvation on a faith devoid of works. Instead, have faith in God, and live out your faith. "Trust and obey", as the grand old hymn goes.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

A Canadian's Reflections on Five Years in South Africa

Most of my blog entries are theological in nature and I don't often get personal. However, as this weekend marks five years of residence in South Africa for me, I thought I would share some personal reflections. I am turning 30 in a few weeks' time. I spent the first 25 years of my life in Canada (Grimsby, Ontario, to be precise), and the last five in South Africa (4 1/2 in Durban and the last six months in Cape Town).

Canada and South Africa are very different worlds. One can start with the weather, which isn't as different as  one might think. The heat of summer is fairly similar in the two countries, although of course it occurs at opposite times of year due to being in different hemispheres. Durban can be unbearably humid but the temperature highs in Jan-Feb (30-35 degrees) are similar to what one can get in southern Ontario. As to winter, Canadian winter temperatures are significantly colder: -5 to -10 is typical compared to 15ish in Cape Town, getting down to single digits at night. However, the South African winter can actually feel colder because buildings (including our apartment) are not insulated or heated. Thus in Canada, it can be -20 outside and 20 inside, but in South Africa, if it is 13 outside, it's probably 15 inside.

A more fundamental difference between the countries is economic. Canada is a developed country, usually voted as one of the best places to live in the world. South Africa is a developing country. It is classified as a middle income country but this is misleading because of its high GINI index. This statistic measures the economic inequality in a country - the gap between rich and poor - and South Africa had the highest value in the world as of 2009. Thus in Cape Town, for instance, you have suburbs that resemble upscale Canadian neighbourhoods, only a few kilometres away from slums where people eke out a living in squalor. Unfortunately, after a few months of living here it ceases to be shocking and becomes just part of the scenery.

Of course this inequality, which is very much along racial lines, is the enduring legacy of the country's apartheid history. Many whites have emigrated to the developed world over the past 25 years, and most white South Africans I meet tell me they have family in Canada. Many people are surprised that I, as a white Canadian, would go against the flow and choose to make my home here. Sure, many affluent people from  Western countries come as tourists, or to volunteer for a few months, but to settle down here? Why? This country which, according to some, will quickly degenerate into anarchic chaos once the ailing Nelson Mandela passes away?

The question of why I settled in South Africa is a complex one, but I think the shortest answer I can give is that I believe God called me to come here. My experiences have given me a great appreciation for the story of Abraham. No, I don't have any delusions of grandeur that I've come here to start a great nation. What I mean is that I believe God called me out of my comfort zone so that I could grow as a person, and perhaps be a force for good in this existing great nation of South Africa.

This brings me to the greatest difference between Canada and South Africa. As our pastor mentioned a few weeks back, for all of South Africa's problems, one thing it has going for it is that this is a nation which is spiritually alive and where the Spirit of God is very active. In this country it is acceptable to express one's Christian faith openly without being called a bigot or a violator of human rights. The president can make reference to the Second Coming in a speech, prayer is offered in public schools, and churches are full of people of all ages and cultures. The forces of secularization have not succeeded in pouring cold water on the Spirit's fire in South Africa as they have, to a great extent, in Canada and other Western countries.

The work of the 19th century missionaries from Europe and North America has borne great fruit. While their natural descendants back home have largely rejected the gospel of Christ, the people of Africa and other newly evangelized parts of the world have become their spiritual heirs, much the way that the Gentiles of the Roman Empire became the spiritual heirs of the Jewish apostles. The locus of global Christianity has shifted from North to South. God's purpose has not been and cannot be thwarted.

For this reason I feel grateful to be in South Africa, in spite of uncertainties about the country's political and economic stability. While I miss my family and friends in Canada and the USA very much, God has given me a family here, and many rich experiences and relationships that have helped me to grow in a way I never could have had I stayed put in the land of my birth. 

I do not know what the next five years hold, but the past five have given me many reasons to praise God and His Son Jesus Christ, and great hope that no matter what happens, He is in control.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Godly Fear vs. Guilty Fear

Fear is usually regarded as a negative emotion; and yet the Bible commands Christians to fear God. Preachers sometimes explain this by saying that 'fear' really refers to reverence or awe. But the Greek word used is phobos, from which we get the term phobia. And Paul commands believers to fear and tremble (Philippians 2:12). 

So what exactly is godly fear? And how can we reconcile it with another well-known Bible verse which says that love casts out fear (1 John 4:18)?

These questions are addressed in my latest paper on www.dianoigo.com. It's my shortest ever, too - barely three pages!