The third problem with James 2:19 revolves around this question:
Are the words in James 2:19 a reflection of James' own thoughts? Or do they reflect the thoughts of someone else?
To see this problem you need only look at verse 18 which says:
"But someone will say, you have faith, and I have works. show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
So, James is sort-of role-playing here. He's conjured up a hypothetical speaker, (we'll name him Fred, okay?) someone who is challenging him. It's not an actual person… James is anticipating a certain kind of challenge and then he responds to it. It's easy enough to see, in verse 18, where Fred begins speaking… Fred's first words are:
"You have faith, and I have works…"
But it's not quite as easy to see where Fred's challenge ends and James' rebuttal begins.
At this point it's important to understand two things: 1) The original Greek text contained no punctuation marks, no quotation marks. 2) We believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God in the original languages. We do not necessarily believe that the translations are inspired. This is one reason why it's so important to look at the original languages.
Also, I should say that I got this understanding of this passage from Pastor Robert Dean at West Houston Bible Church.
So the issue here is, where should we place the quote marks? Where does Fred's challenge end and where does James' rebuttal begin? What you'll notice is that different English translations place the quote marks in different places. To see this, look at the screen shot below, taken from blueletterbible.org:
The English translations here are New King James and New American Standard. I've highlighted the extent of the quotation in each, and you can plainly see the two versions do not agree as to the placement of the quotes. In some English translations, quotations are left out altogether and problems like this are precisely the reason. The quotes weren't in the original text, so they shouldn't be in the translation, either.
So, we have two different ideas about where Fred's challenge ends and where James' response begins. Since we reject post-modernism, we cannot conclude that both are right. But we could safely conclude that both are wrong, or that one is right and the other is wrong as long as we had good reasons to reach that conclusion. But how can we decide?
It turns out that we can use other passages in the Bible as a guide, and this is where it gets really interesting. First, take a look at Romans 9:19-20:
You will say to me then, why does He still find fault? For who resists His will? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, why did you make me like this, will it?
Then look at 1 Corinthians 15:35-36:
But someone will say, how are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come? Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies.
Notice, first of all, that I've removed the quotations from these passages. Also notice that these verses are structured very similarly to James 2:18-20 in that the author (in this case Paul) is anticipating some sort of challenge from a hypothetical person. And also notice that it's possible, and I would suggest even easy, to figure out from the grammar in the sentence where the quote marks belong. It turns out that there are other cues besides quotation marks that mark the beginning and end of a quote… there were no quote marks in Greek because they weren't really necessary… they could figure it out. It wasn't really that difficult.
In each case, the beginning of the quotation is obvious. But the end is actually pretty easy to spot as well… there's a change, a shift at a certain point and it's signaled by something contrary-an adversative… a thought that's flowing against what's just been said. In the Romans passage, (in the NASB translation) the signal is "On the contrary, who are you, O man…"and in the 1 Corinthians passage the signal is "foolish one…" Notice that both seem rather derogatory toward the speaker, almost mocking him. Especially in the 1 Corinthians passage. "Foolish one" is not exactly a compliment.
So, the question is, can we use these two NT passages to instruct us on where the quotes should go in James 2? The answer is "Yes!" Look at James 2:18-20 with no quotes:
But someone will say, you have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
Look at where the adversative conjunction "but" is, and then look at the insult that follows, just like in Romans 9:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-36. It follows the same pattern. This signals the beginning of James' response to Fred, and the whole "demons also believe and tremble" line is part of Fred's challenge to James… it doesn't reflect James' own thoughts!
So now, having seen where the quotes most likely belong, the first two problems seem almost moot… actually, they just serve to reinforce the conclusion that the quotes in our English translations are not in the right place.
Next, I'll try to explain Fred's challenge to James and make sense of what we now know is James' rebuttal.