For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 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 2.8-9
For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. –James 2.26
Ah, the old faith versus works debate. Paul vs. James: cage fight! Who wins?
To be honest, it has been a while since I have given this one any thought. Once you realize that the various documents of the Scriptures were written with/regards/to/from various communities with differing problems and emphases, making them all fit together exactly isn’t so important. And yet, what if this particular “problem” shouldn’t be?
In his new book Outlaw Justice: The Messianic Politics of Paul, Ted Jennings offers a fresh reading of Romans, bringing together insights from ancient political thinkers and contemporary philosophers. In the introduction, he explains some of the choices that he had to make in translating the text.
The reading of this text that I propose here breaks with this tradition of reading Paul. The reading begins by restoring terms like “law” and “justice” to their basic political significance. So dominant has the apolitical reading of Romans become that it will be necessary to introduce a number of unfamiliar translations into this reading. In part this is neces- sary to help the reader encounter a text with fresh eyes not blinkered by the tradition. A strategy of defamiliarizing is almost always necessary to allow a fresh encounter with the text. But in this case it is even more important if the text is to be liberated from its cloying confinement in the cult like enclave of traditional religious reading. Much of this is simple substitution warranted by the text itself: Judean rather than Jewish, messiah rather than Christ, justice rather than righteousness, fidelity or loyalty rather than faith, generosity or favor rather than grace, Joshua rather than Jesus, and so on.
So next time you’re reading your Bible, try translating “faith” as fidelity. It works!