Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether salvation is by faith or by works. The argument is that James 2:24 and Matthew 19:16-17 say that salvation is by works, but Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:20, 28, and Galatians 2:16 say that salvation is by faith. However, the solution to this supposed contradiction in the Bible is simple.
Scriptures – Is Salvation by Faith or by Works?
Salvation is by Works
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.James 2:24
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Matthew 19:16-19
Salvation is by Faith
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 a result of works, so that no one may boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin… 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.Romans 3:20, 28
yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.Galatians 2:16
The Answer – Is Salvation by Faith or by Works?
Salvation is by Faith, But Always Results in Works
The Bible is clear that salvation and justification are by faith alone. The reason why James says that a person is justified by works is because he is using the word justification in a different way than Paul uses it.
James’s writing is concerned with practical matters, so when James uses the word “justification,” he is saying that a person with faith, but no works, is not truly justified, because a person who is truly justified will exhibit the inevitable result of justification, which is good works. James is essentially writing about what true justification looks like.
In contrast, Paul uses the word “justification” in a more technical, theological sense. He is concerned with defining exactly what justification is. Justification is technically the result of faith alone.
Regarding Matthew 19:16-17, there are two possible interpretations. The first possibility is that Jesus is saying that nobody can fulfill these commandments, so faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation.
The second possibility is that Jesus is saying that a person can only obey God properly after God has regenerated that person, or caused that person to be born again. If this is the case, then works is not what saves a person, but rather, a person who is saved will have the ability to obey God in a manner that is pleasing to God.
Foundational Principles Regarding Bible Difficulties
There are some foundational principles that apply to all alleged and apparent contradictions in the Bible. To read more, see Bible Difficulties: Foundational Principles.
More Answers to “Contradictions” in the Bible
To read more answers to alleged and apparent contradictions in the Bible, see “Contradictions” in the Bible Answered.
These books are also excellent resources: