Here they will point out that ‘this is the only passage in the Bible where these two words (faith & alone) come together, and the Bible is very clear when it says that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.’
Keep in mind that context of James 2:24 is dealing with Abraham, and this verse concerns the time when Abraham was about to offer up his son Isaac upon the altar.
And here James asks the rhetorical question, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?”
It is here that I’d like to pose a question as it relates to the context.
Is this passage talking about Abraham’s (forensic or legal) justification where God ‘deemed, or declared Abraham as righteous’, or is the passage talking about Abraham being justified (shown, deemed, or declared as righteousness) before men?
This is a very relevant question because Romans 4 tells us that Abraham was justified before God long before Isaac was even born,
And it wasn’t by his works, but rather by his faith!
The point of all this is that the justification found in James 2:24 concerns a completely different time, circumstance, and event, which was over 20 years after the justification where “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
James 2:24 says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?”
Yes, Abraham was justified by his works-
But was he justified (shown, deemed, or declared “as righteous”) before God or before men?
Anyone who understands James 2:24 to be talking about Abraham’s legal or forensic justification before God has a real problem, because when Paul talks about Abraham’s justification in Romans 4, he makes it very clear that justification before God is not by works:
“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Romans 4:3
Unless Scripture contradicts itself— and it doesn’t since it is God’s inerrant Word, James 2:24 cannot be talking about Abraham’s legal or forensic justification before God, but rather about being ‘shown, deemed, or declared as righteous’ before men.
Looking at the context, Abraham’s justification before men by works “fulfilled” his positional justification before God, which was by faith years before.
In other words, because of his faith God ‘deemed and declared Abraham as righteous’, and he was righteous in his position; this was a legal and binding act. However, when Abraham offered up Isaac, he was living his life experience before men in a manner that was consistent with his position.
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” James 2:21-24
But there’s another point that relates to the words only and alone.
The NKJV reads: “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”
The Greek word translated only here is monon, which is an adverb.
Adverbs modify adjectives, verbs, or other adverbs.
Adverbs do not modify nouns.
Adjectives modify nouns.
We know that this is an adverb (monon) and not an adjective (monhs) since Greek has a different forms for each word.
Hodges makes this comment concerning the adverb monon used here in James 2:24
“The Greek adverb “only” (monon) … does not qualify (i.e., modify) the word faith, since the form would then have been monhs. As an adverb, however, it modifies the verb justified implied in the second clause [“and not only justified by faith”]. In other words, James is saying that a by-faith justification is not the only kind of justification there is. There is also a by-works justification. The former type is before God; the latter type is before men.” 1
Thus, we might paraphrase the sense of Jas 2:24 in this way: ‘You see then that a man is justified by works, and not only justified by faith.’
Hodges also makes a helpful observation that this distinction is also found in Paul’s writings in Romans 4:2. The apostle tells us that there is such a thing as “works” justification before men, but not before God:
“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
Thus, the only way a man can be justified before God is by faith.
1) Zane C. Hodges, The Epistle of James: Proven Character Through Testing (Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 1994), 71
2) Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege: Faith and Works in Tension, Second Edition (Dallas: Redención Viva, 1992), 34