Why Rahab? (James 2:25-26)

At the conclusion of his discussion of the relationship between faith and works, James uses Abraham as an example of a person who obeyed God and was declared righteous. He alludes to Genesis 22 and quotes Genesis 15:16 and concludes that a person is considered righteous because of what they do, not on the basis of faith alone (James 2:24). Usually scholars focus on the glaring clash between this verse and Paul’s argument in Romans 4 that Abraham was justified by believing in God (Gen 15) before he was given the rite of circumcision (Gen 17). For Paul, one is justified “by grace through faith not of works.”

I have written on this aspect of James before, but in preparing for a lecture on the ethics of James I wondered why James uses Rahab as an example in 2:25. Scholars often pass over this verse as if it was an appendix to the argument and not of any real importance. But Rahab is mentioned twice in the Jewish-Christian literature, Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25-26. 1 Clement 12 refers Rahab as well, observing that her “faith and hospitality” saved her. Clement is not interested in Rahab as a Gentile convert. Rather, Clement connects the “scarlet thread” to the blood of Jesus so that “not only faith but prophecy is found in this woman.”  In all three cases Rahab is a paradigm of faith because she acted on behalf of the spies.

In Joshua 2 Rahab is presented as an example of a “righteous Canaanite.”  This is remarkable since she is introduced as a זֹנָה, a prostitute and she betrays her own city to the enemy by lying to the authorities. After she has protected the spies, she says she has heard of God’s victory in Egypt and understood that Israel’s God is “the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (Josh 2:11). Since she has protected Joshua’s two spies and is therefore exempt from the destruction of all the people of Jericho (Josh 6:17).

Rahab Scarlet CordWhen scholars examine Paul’s argument in Galatians 3 or Romans 4, they often ask why Paul used Abraham as an example of justification by faith. Sometimes they suggest Abraham was used by Paul’s opponents to argue Gentiles (like Abraham) should submit to circumcision as did Abraham. After all, Abraham was also a Gentile who expressed his faith in some concrete action (offering Isaac as a sacrifice). The use of Abraham in James 2:20-24 supports this, since Paul seems to be in conflict with “men from James” in Galatians.

My question in James 2:25 is similar: why does James use Rahab as an example of someone who was “considered righteous”? He uses the same aorist passive of δικαιόω as James 2:21 and Romans 4:2, both referring to Abraham being declared righteous. Perhaps Rahab fits the pattern of a Gentile who has heard the word of God (the Exodus and Israel’s victories in the wilderness), has expressed faith in the God who did these things, and confirmed her faith by some concrete action.

For James, Rahab may be a better example for his point since she demonstrated her faith by hiding the spies before she expressed her faith in the God of Israel. Out of all of the residents of Jericho, only Rahab and her family were saved from destruction and only because she expressed her faith through an action.  As the climax of the faith vs. works discussion, James says faith without works is dead (v. 26), just like the people of Jericho! The warning to the reader is that even for the Gentiles, some real expression of faith is necessary in order to faith to be “saving faith.”

This discussion is always difficult because we have a tendency to read our theological presuppositions into the text (I know I do!). But if we only had James to construct Christian theology, how different from Pauline Theology would our view of salvation be? Or, are Paul and James really not that far apart after all?

17 thoughts on “Why Rahab? (James 2:25-26)

  1. In all honestly I don’t understand how people think James contradicts Paul and vice versa. In my opinion they are complimentary of each other. While James 2:14-25 has many elements of faith without works being useless, I would argue that James’ intention was not to contradict Paul (if he was aware of Paul’s teachings), but instead James’ theology acts as another side to Paul’s theology. One also had to look at the audience that is being addressed in each letter. Paul writes to primarily Gentile churches in his epistles who were struggling with whether they needed to follow Jewish purity laws, circumcision etc. While James is writing to a Jewish Christian population. James may have been trying to combat the hypocrisy founded in specific sects of Judaism, specifically the Pharisees who Jesus called hypocrites several times (Matthew 23). As a reaction to Jesus’ teaching perhaps some Jews believed they could simply accept Christ as their savior and continue to live in their old lives, simply doing works for the glory of themselves or simply not doing works at all. James it seems is trying to say the well known “actions speak louder than words”, telling people about Jesus is nice and all, but if you can’t back it up it was useless, and may have the opposite fact of what was intended. While Paul it appears interpreted works as fallowing the Jewish Law, one simply needs to believe in Christ and repent to be saved. Paul’s intention was to reassure Gentiles that they do not need to follow Jewish customs. I think that James 2:8 really showcases James intention for his book, he was not trying to cause division or arguments, James simply wants us to love one another and love our God.

  2. I agree with emilycrosssite with this James and Paul contradiction. I do not see so much of a contradiction, but as emilycrossite mentions “they are complementary of each other.” I cannot see how you can have one without the other. Works is the extension of one’s faith. Through their works one demonstrates their faith. In Matthew 7:15-20, the passage talks about how a good tree only produces good fruits, and the trees that do not produce such fruit will be “cut down”. The passage is talking about false prophets and mentions twice that one will know them by their fruit (vs 16, 20). The same would go for anyone else. People should know your faith by what fruit one produces. Unless you do the will of God then He does not know you (Matthew 7:23). If one has faith they show it through their works. At the same time one needs faith in order to truly do the work. They need each other, and not one aspect greater than the other.
    I think James could of used Rahab due to the fact she put her faith into works. She could of just said she had faith and done nothing allowing the two spies to be captured. If this happened would she really have faith? Her actions demonstrated her faith. Instead out of faith, she helped the two spies and kept them from being caught. The actions she did showed her faith. If she was caught hiding them, she would have serious consequences for her actions, but because she had faith she was able to accomplish what she did. Without her faith there was no reason for her to do what she did. Her showing her faith through what she did and not just saying she believes is what I think is one of the reason James uses her.

  3. I think that is easy to see the apparent contraction. James specifically talks about righteousness through works, whereas Paul is concerned with righteousness through faith. This is eerily similar in my opinion to the more recent discussions people have been having about doubt and faith. The relationship between Paul and James’ writings can be viewed as contradictory, or complimentary. In a similar way, doubt and faith can be either complimentary or contradictory. One motivates the other. To answer the question, I think that James would have made for an interesting “center” of our theology as far as soteriology and justification is concerned. Obviously we would have probably heard more from James if this was the case, but since we only have this letter to read I would suggest starting in chapter 2. It seems interesting that James mentions “favoritism” right before engaging the subject of righteousness. (v. 2-4) Why would James talk about this and jump right into the subjects of righteousness and justification immediately afterwords? I think that it stands in line with the rest of his book. When you read the book of James it is pretty difficult to not get a very clear picture of social justice and right treatment of the poor, widowed, and lost. James is concerned with the legs of faith rather than its head alone. I think that if we were to only read James we would get a picture of a very outward focused Christianity which exists almost solely to help the poor. I think it would be unfortunate as it would miss out on the other aspects of faith like belief and acceptance of Jesus’ free gist on the cross. I think it is obvious that the two are nearly inseparable if one is to live a holistic faith out daily.

  4. This passage is one that I have also simply breezed over without truly thinking about why, of all people, the author chose Rahab. I think that the argument made that Rahab chose God over her own country, and that the author of James is simply showing that actions are required to have real faith makes a lot of sense. The author of James makes it abundantly clear that he feels action is necessary to have genuine faith (James 2). When I was thinking about this, I was wondering if the fact that Rahab believed even though she had only heard about what happened has anything to do with this. Rahab had greater faith than even those who had seen the miracles God provided, and acted, even at great personal risk. In this way, Rahab could have been considered to have greater faith than even many Israelites. And as far as the question of how different our theology would be if based on the book of James rather than Pauline literature: It is difficult to know. The easy answer would be that our faith could be more action oriented. James makes it clear that we are not saved through works, but that they are a fundamental component of faith. Perhaps, if we were more focused on James, we as Christians would focus more on living out our faith, not to earn salvation, but to further complete our faith.

  5. Rahab shows up multiple times in the Jewish Christian Literature, both in James 2 and also previously in the faith chapter of Hebrews, chapter 11 verse 31. Both point to Rahab’s actions in saving the spies, James saying it made her righteous and the author of Hebrews saying it was by faith she was spared. I look at those passages and see similar meanings: That Rahab had faith, and through that faith she acted in accordance to God’s will, and because of her faith AND actions she is made righteous in the eyes of the Lord. It appears quite obvious to me that she, being a “harlot”, she was saved through grace, which is very Pauline.

  6. Thinking back on my long tenure in the church and having heard what must be thousands of sermons, I have never heard one preached on Rehab. I think, like what Taylor said, that this is a verse that tends to get glossed over. I believe that the reason Rehab is honored is because she had faith in God because of the spies, even though she may not have known who God was. Her faith in the unknown was rewarded. The unknown became known to her, and because of her faith she was spared. She hid the spies, who were seeking the method of the destruction of her city, which would have put her in great personal danger if she was discovered. I think that this took a lot of faith on her part. If we had either Paul or James only, I do not think that our faith would look all that different. Paul and James both preach the same things from different angles, there is harmony between them for those who have eyes to see.

  7. Rahab is among a few women who are named in the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of Matthew; women were not often specifically mentioned in Bible times. Those who are named–Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary–might be considered sexually promiscuous because of lifestyle, nationality, or unexplained pregnancy. And yet, Matthew lists them among the generations from Abraham to the Messiah. Perhaps for no other reason than to assure each of us that we can be used by God.
    Why does James use Rahab as an example of someone who is considered righteous? The same reason God uses any of us to carry out His work.
    Rahab showed that her faith was strong by hiding the spies. She had not yet asked to be rescued from the destruction of Jericho, but she did what she knew was right. She put her faith into action by caring for the immediate physical need of safety for the spies. James explains that faith must be accompanied by action (2:17).
    Rahab and her family were safe when Jericho fell because Rahab had taken action when confronted with her faith. She then verbally confirmed her belief in the God of Israel. Rahab became the mother of Boaz, great grand-mother to King David, part of the lineage of Jesus. She allowed God to use her in Jericho, and He continued to use her and her offspring for His work.

  8. I think if we had James and not Paul to be Christians with, we would have vastly different lives. How much crazy stuff do we take from all that Paul wrote to judge how we live our lives and stuff like that? James is full of great ethical teachings, but the theology of salvation looks vastly different between the two. I think that Paul’s teachings on salvation are more focused on the freedom God gave us in Jesus while James’ view is also on the freedom through Jesus, but also through doing what good Jews do too. And that is take care of the orphan, widow, and the other poor people, just like it says in the Old Testament and in James (2:8-13).

  9. The fact that Rahab is mentioned in this book is quite unique. However, considering that she did something for the Jewish people that no one else would is worthy of mention. After all, that is really why she is even in the Bible in the first place. I really have to ask the question, what would make someone question the righteousness of Rahab? She did the right thing and did it in reverential fear of the one true God which she knew existed. This isn’t much a question of her righteous character at all. Still, I must ask why her in particular? Are there not many more characters to choose from? Why did Rahab in particular strike the interest of James?

  10. The fact that James and the author of Hebrews both make claims that faith is important, yet it seems that James takes a very different approach than the author of Hebrews. James brings out the use of Rahab because she was someone that showed faith regarding a god that she was familiar with, although unfamiliar at the same time. She saw that the conquering of the nation of Israel was great during this part of their conquest, and believed that this God was greater than all others due to their winnings. This was the point James was trying to make. Rahab believed that Yahweh was stronger, and demonstrated that by hiding the spies from Israel. This points to works based on her faith that shows Rahab believes in Yahweh and therefore wants to gain in the favor of Yahweh by helping out his people. Faith is demonstrated by your works and it is often debated if you can have faith without works. Well James clearly portrays faith as being seen through Rahab’s actions. To me, when we observe the text for when it was written, if we just observe the text through James we would assume that nobody is getting to heaven based on faith alone, but only through works as James describes.

  11. In James, it is interesting to see Rahab used as an example. In the Old Testament, Rahab is introduced as prostitute yet she is considered to be one of the most righteous in the Bible. The reason being is that she hid the Jewish spies even before she believed in their God. After she helped them escape, she believed that God would rescue her and her family. After the fall of Jericho, Rahab joined the Israelites and followed God. Rahab is the best example because she came from a background who first did not know about God. She believed in God after hearing about how God helped the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land. Rahab is also the best example as she demonstrated her faith through her actions and not just by faith.

  12. People have tried to find contradictions in the Bible to disprove its inerrancy and ultimately disprove its authority. The problem is that the things that do seem to contradict themselves are usually taken out of context. One of these topics of possible contradiction is the debate of faith between James and Paul. The argument between whether James and Paul contradict each other is a very old one. I truly believe James and Paul are talking about two different things that relate to one another. Paul is discussing the point of salvation. A moment in time where the Holy Spirit unveils the believer and salvation begins. This seems to make more sense to a Gentile audience who did not already believe in only the one true God of Israel. James is discussing what should happen when you are saved. James is writing to the diaspora. HE IS WRITING TO PEOPLE WHO ALREADY BELIEVED IN THE ONE TRUE GOD. Though the avenue is different because the avenue is in Jesus, these Jews, once they understood who Jesus was, were believing. Both theologies are correct and one is clearly more pointed to the Jewish community who already believe in God and the other is pointed to more of a Gentile community. Both need Jesus. One is talking about the point of salvation and the other is talking about the Christian life.
    On the discussion of Rahab, I think she is mentioned by James specifically because James had just written about not showing partiality. On the spectrum of biblical heroes, Abraham is clearly at the top. He is the father of the nation of Israel. Rahab was a prostitute. She probably ranked pretty low on the spectrum of biblical heroes. What James is doing is showing equality and mutuality between two very different people who are both important to Jewish history. These people would have had very different views on these two people. This is why I think James uses both Abraham and Rahab as examples.

  13. Rahab appears to me to be a natural fit for James’ discussion on the relationship between works and faith. James is very concerned about how Christians live out there faith and the need for a visible outworking from their faith. For James, these two ideas are what makes you a Christian, to the point where if one of them is absent, he believes that you are not a Christian. Rahab exemplifies this belief through her actions with the spies, not only believing in YHWH, but then living her life in accordance with that belief.
    James argues that faith and works are essential aspects to Christian living, being inseparable for true belief in who Jesus Christ is. James believes that just because believers are free from the law because of Jesus, they still have to live under God’s moral order, or as James calls the “royal law” (Jobes, 221). Rahab showed this action when the Israelites took over Jericho. She protected the foreigners in her land, providing for them and saving their lives at the risk of her own. She lived out the faith that she believed, and she and her family were saved because of it. The outworking of faith is needed for any Christian, and shows your faith in who God is.

  14. This blog post can be a bit challenging to navigate and progress through because of our tendency to include our entire theology, rather than just James’ Christian theology. The blog post mentions this tendency of ours as Christians and Bible Students, and I completely agree. First and foremost, I would like to share some thoughts in regards to the concluding questions of the blog post. I believe that James and Paul have extremely different views and theologies on salvation of human beings. I took the course “Pauline Literature and Theology” last semester, so I feel like that intensive study of the letters of Paul have prepared me for a discussion like this. This course has left me with a much deeper understanding on the book of James over the past couple weeks as well.

    From my perspective and understanding, I feel that Paul views salvation as a result of one’s faith. I feel as if Paul does not consider the works or deeds of a Christian. In contrast, James obviously understands and acknowledges that faith is critical and important to salvation, but he also believes that works and deeds are important as well. James 2:14-26 represents an entire passage of the Bible where James speaks on how faith without works, or deeds, is dead. In my opinion, Paul sharply contrasts from this thinking because Paul does not favor works or deeds in any manner.

    This passage is the passage in which James includes the reference to Rahab. Because I understand the theology of James and his view on how Christians can receive salvation, I feel as if I can easily understand why James chose to incorporate this Rahab reference into his letter. He chose to incorporate Rahab into the letter because Rahab was willing to live out her faith, or display her faith in God, through her interaction and situation with the spies. This represented Rahab’s way of professing her faith in the eyes of James. James seems to rather witness someone live out their faith than to simply profess their faith.

    Rahab was a very interesting inclusion into James message for this example because of her history of prostitution. According to Moore (2016), Rahab is introduced in the Bible as a prostitute. This means that her prostitution was a major aspect of her life. Therefore, this seems to go against living out one’s faith that James stresses. That being said, Moore claims that James exemplifies Rahab because of her combination of faith and action. This is very important to consider and should not be ignored.

    Though James and Paul seem to have different theologies, it is important to consider the fact that they may not have been at war with each other in terms of their theological perspectives. Jobes (2011) lists multiple reasons as to why these two may have different views on salvation and faith and works (pg. 217-220). They could have very easily been writing from different perspectives of references (Jobes, 2011, pg. 219). Jobes (2011) claims that there is a combination of reasons that causes these different viewpoints between apostles (pg. 220).

    Jobes, K. H. (2011). The Letters to the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

    Moore, S. R. (2016). “Rahab the Prostitute.” John D. Barry, et al. The Lexham Bible Dictionary.

  15. I think that James and Paul are not as opposite as we like to make them. My first thought is to consider the difference in audience and their circumstance. James writes to Jews who have accepted Jesus as Messiah, fulfilling something they have been anticipating for generations, who have likely lived their whole lives in action-based worship/obedience to YHWH. Therefore, teaching them to no longer exercise physical representations or sacraments as worship to God because of Jesus could be a negative influence on their faith. And Paul’s presentation to the Gentiles is driven not by fulfillment of anticipation but by overflowing grace through Jesus Christ. I do not think these two things contradict each other. I think the differences arise because of a unique emphasis from the authors due to their awareness of the audience.

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