Resolving Bible Contradictions - Was Abraham Justified by Faith or Works?


The second contradiction listed on the BibViz website is: "Was Abraham Justified by Faith or Works?"

It is claimed that two contradictory views are proposed in the Bible:
  • He was justified by faith:
    • "For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath [whereof] to glory; but not before God." Romans 4:2
  • He was justified by works:
    • "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?" James 2:21


It is claimed that Romans 4:2 and James 2:21 contradict each other about how Abraham was justified.  The latter claims that works justified Abraham, whereas the former claims works do not provide a point of boasting for Abraham before God, and it was his faith that justified him.


This answer is incorrect because it suffers from the fallacy of equivocation.

Protestants say that the fallacy of equivocation occurs in this question because the word 'faith' has different uses in the contexts of the books Romans and James.  Catholics however believe it is the word 'works' that has different meanings in each book.

The nuances are made clearer by looking at Abraham's life in more detail:

  • In Genesis 12:1-4, at age 75, Abraham has faith, in God and so he obeys God and leaves his hometown to go the the place God calls him.  This is confirmed by Hebrews 11:8.
  • In Genesis 15:6, Abraham (now 85), after ten years of obedience again / still has faith and is counted as justified / righteous before God.
  • In Genesis 22, Abraham (now circa 110) is justified by works and the scripture of Genesis 15:6 is fulfilled.  This is confirmed by James 2:14-26.
Christians usually summarise this as follows:
  1. Abraham first has faith and obeys God's call in Genesis 12.
  2. Ten years later, Abraham is declared as justified by God because he has faith.  This faith is not on the basis of works of the Mosaic law, which at this time did not exist.  Where there is no law, there is no transgression (Romans 4:15).
  3. This justification is then either:
    1. A redeclaration of the justification resulting from Abraham's faith in Genesis 12 (held by some Protestants)
    2. The point of Abraham's justification, with prior faith not being deemed as justifying (held by people such as James White, the Reformed Churches, other Protestants)
    3. A further infusion of the justification that occurred in Genesis 12, i.e. justification is a process (held by Catholics, Greek Orthodox churches, etc.)
    4. A restoration of Abraham's justification after losing it due to sin (held by some minority catholic groups, etc.).
  4. Abraham's works in Genesis 22 are then either:
    • The fruit of his justifying faith (Protestant), or
    • Works of love that are not works of the law and thus contribute to the Abraham's process of justification.


Whichever view is correct, all four demonstrate that a simple quotation of two sentences, from two different books of the bible, using different definitions for at least one of the terms used, does not outline a contradiction.  Instead, all four demonstration a fallacy of equivocation has occurred (either in the word 'faith' or 'work').  

The answer therefore fails to give sufficient proof that a contradiction has occurred.  Furthermore, the evidence indicates that there are a number of possible solutions to this proposed contradiction, and that no contradiction actually exists.