Bible Question:

How should James 2:24 read? Should it be translated or understood as, “You see that a person is justified by his works . . . ” or “You see by his works that a person is justified . . .” There is a difference in meaning.

Bible Answer:

The passage you refer to reads as follows in the New American Standard Bible (NASB),

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. James 2:24 (NASB)

The transliterated Greek text reads as follows:

horate hoti ex ergon dikaioutai anthropos kai ouk ek pisteos mono.

This Greek text reads as follows:

You see that out from works is justified a person and not out from faith only.

The key word in the Greek passage is dikaioutai which is translated as “is justified” in the NASB. Danker and Bauer indicate that the word means “to show justice, to do justice, to render a favorable verdict, to vindicate, or to demonstrate to be morally right.”[1] Moulton and Milligan note that the meaning is to “think or deem right” or “declared just.”[2] Colin Brown says to “justify, vindicate, treat as just, acquit, pronounce or treat as righteous, make or set free from.”[3] It is clear that the meaning of the word has a sense of not “being just” but of being considered “to be just.” The tense of this Greek verb is present passive/middle indicative. The highly regarded Greek scholar A. T. Robertson states that the meaning of the verb is, “not ‘is made righteous’ but ‘is shown to be righteous.'”

These quotes are consistent. dikaioutai does not mean that the person “is justified” but “is demonstrated to be righteous” or as A. T. Robertson states, “is shown to be righteous.” Therefore, let me suggest that the meaning of the passage should read as follows:

You see (understand or perceive) that by works one is shown to be justified and not by faith only.

Conclusion:

This verse would seem to imply that one can be considered to be just by works or by faith. But James 2:26 clearly summarizes the point by stating that faith and works go together. One is justified by works and by faith.

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (NASB) James 2:26

James 2:24 and James 2:26 are not inconsistent. They go together. Our works demonstrate that we have saving faith in Jesus Christ.

References:

1. Danker and Bauer. Greek-Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. University of Chicago Press. 1979. p. 249.
2. Moulton and Milligan. Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. Hendrickson Publishers. 1997. p. 162.
3. Colin Brown. Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 3, Regency Reference Library. 1971. p. 352.
4. A. T. Robertson. Word Pictures in the new Testament. Baker Book House. 1960. p. 38.

Reference Links:

Peace With God
You need to do more than believe to be saved!
What does faith without works is dead mean?