James 2:19 – The Demons Believe God is One



reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume II

“You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”

Within his epistle, James is quite serious about the faith of his audience being demonstrated in action by appropriate works (James 2:14-18). To really hammer hard this point, he informs them, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder” (James 2:19, RSV). The statement “God is one” (eis estin ho Theos) is taken directly from the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”; Shema Yisrael, ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad. The Shema, for both ancient Judaism and modern Judaism, remains something repeated multiple times, every day, in traditional prayers (and is also present in many traditional liturgies of many Christian sects). And, the Shema definitely served as a part of the Messianic understanding of God in the Apostolic Scriptures (i.e., 1 Corinthians 8:4-6). Aside from the different dynamics regarding the Shema and the co-existence of the Father and Son in the Godhead (see previous discussion in Volume I on Deuteronomy 6:4-5), the Shema is principally a declaration on the supremacy of the God of Israel in the lives of His people. Those who declare that He is the God of Creation, are bidden to Him exclusively.

James observes on the fact that the forces of Satan also believe in this same God, and they shudder. Demons can recognize who God is, and they acknowledge His existence, likely having a far more tangible understanding of His supernatural reality than most mortals do. But simply because demons may acknowledge God, it can do nothing for them, except instill a high level of fear into them, as their eternal damnation is secure. Davids comments to this regard, on how “the NT knows of the monotheism of demons (Mk. 1:24; 5:7; Acts 16:17; 19:15) and their fear before Christ, whom they recognize (Mk. 1:23, 24; 5:7). The point is that their knowledge of who God is does not save them; in fact, it is this very knowledge of which makes them shudder…A faith which cannot go beyond this level is worse than useless.”[1]

Are those who have a defective faith, and may believe that only a mental ascent of God, and then a selective obedience to Him is all that is necessary—not that much better off than the demons? Moo indicates, “James might be implying, as demons, knowing something of the true God, yet lacking true faith, shudder in fear of judgment, so also ought people whose verbal profession is not followed up with actions.”[2] An acknowledgment of God’s existence and primacy is not enough; James’ point is that the demons know that God is primary, but that is certainly not going to provide them with salvation as eternally condemned creatures. Those who are committed to believing in the Shema, and who believe that Yeshua is the Messiah who provides eternal salvation to redeemed human beings, then have a duty to take such faith and demonstrate appropriate deeds.

To James the Just, a Believer cannot just say that he or she acknowledges the existence of God, go through a few religious motions, but then fail to act in the key works which should be present in all Believers. If a mental recognition of God is sufficient, then demons can apparently be saved—which they obviously cannot. James’ argument is, admittedly, somewhat extreme, but it proves a valid point. If all that is required for salvation is a recognition that Yeshua died and rose again, then demons who likewise recognize this fact can be saved and redeemed from their fate. This is why a human being’s faith has to be more. A man or woman’s faith has to be evidenced in a transformation of heart and mind, which will enable the individual to carry out the good works that the Heavenly Father expects from each one of His children.


[1] Ibid., 126.

[2] Moo, James, 131.