Continuing a series on my struggle to understand the puzzle of Paul…
St. James the Lesser, by El Greco
Now we know that what the law says is addressed to those under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world stand accountable to God, since no human being will be justified in his sight by observing the law; for through the law comes consciousness of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, though testified to by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God--to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus. What occasion is there then for boasting? It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith. For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
-- Romans 3:19-28
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, "You have faith and I have works." Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called "the friend of God." See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
-- James 2: 14-24
And when Kephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised.
-- Galatians 2: 11-12
They have been informed that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to abandon Moses and that you are telling them not to circumcise their children or to observe their customary practices. What is to be done? They will surely hear that you have arrived. So do what we tell you.
--(James to Paul) Acts 21: 21-23
The Apostles Peter and Paul, by El Greco
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace. And consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures. Therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, be on your guard not to be led into the error of the unprincipled and to fall from your own stability.
-- 2 Peter 3: 14-17
Many people insist upon the absolute concordance of scripture, and insist that all of the fathers in the apostolic age were of the same mind…That they must have been, or else the whole thing falls apart... I think we are kidding ourselves if we think there wasn’t at least a little bit of tension between St. Paul and St. James. Was it possible that St. Peter was the man in the middle, holding it all together? Is that why St. Peter is such an important symbol of the unity of the Church?
St. Paul and St. James... Were they on the same page at all? The Catholic Encyclopedia says yes (see section on Paul and James).
It is clear from the whole passage that James does not use the word "justify", in the sense in which Paul speaks of the first justification, but in the sense of an increasing justification (cf. Rom., ii, 13; Apoc., xxii, 11), as corresponds to the object or the Epistle. Of any contradiction between the Epistle to the Romans and that of St. James, therefore, there can be no question.
In the commentary in the New American Bible, theologian Mary Ann Getty says yes.
The historical conflict (between the Judaizers and Gentiles) provides the context for Paul’s important concept of “justification by faith”…. Generations later in the Church, when the preponderance of believers were of Gentile origin rather than Jewish origin, the historical context of this dispute was forgotten. Since then, Christians have sometimes mistakenly interpreted Paul’s message as somehow considering faith as opposed to works. Furthermore, the word “alone” was added to the formula “justification by faith” and the phrase was understood in the absolute sense. So, for example, the Protestant Reformation portrayed the “gospel” as “law-free”. The Reformers used Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith to oppose any notion of salvation as dependent on good works such as they alleged the Catholic doctrine of salvation taught. They distorted the Catholic teaching of works as a response to faith. … Both Protestant and Catholics have based their arguments in this debate on Paul, especially on Galatians and Romans. As a result some Christians read into Paul’s message a dichotomy between faith and works which does not accurately interpret Paul’s original meaning.
She might be getting closer...
Martin Luther famously said no. The champion of “justification by faith alone”, read what he said about the Epistle of James:
Faith justifies' and 'faith does not justify' contradict each other flatly. If any one can harmonize them I will give him my doctor's hood and let him call me a fool…
James concludes falsely that now at last Abraham was justified after that obedience; for faith and righteousness are known by works as by the fruits. But it does not follow, as James raves: 'Hence the fruits justify,' just as it does not follow: 'I know a tree by its fruit; therefore the tree becomes good as a result of its fruit. Therefore let our opponents be done with their James, whom they throw up to us so often.
Therefore St. James' epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it. The epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest...Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretations, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove, as the priest in Kalenberg did.
Besides, he [James] throws things together so chaotically that is seems to me he must have been some good, pious man, who took a few saying from the disciples of the apostles and thus tossed them off on paper...In a word, he wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task. He tries to accomplish by harping on the law what the apostles accomplish by stimulating people to love. Therefore I cannot include him among the chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him.
We should throw the epistle of James out of this school [Wittenberg], for it doesn't amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, 'Wait a moment! I'll oppose them and urge works alone.' This he did. He wrote not a word about the suffering and resurrection of Christ, although this is what all the apostles preached about. Besides, there is no order or method in the epistle. Now he discusses clothing and then he writes about wrath and is constantly shifting from one to the other. He presents a comparison: 'As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.' O Mary, mother of God! What a terrible comparison that is!”
Throw Jimmy into the stove... Martin certainly had a colorful way with words, but you know what? I think he was really onto something here, maybe even more than he realized. What do we know about James the Lesser, Bishop of the Jerusalem Church, aka James The Just, aka James “the brother of the Lord”? Eusebius wrote the following, quoting Hegesippus (in what looks to me like a clear blood feud between the family of the High Priest Caiaphas and the family of Jesus):
James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James. He was holy from his mother's womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place ; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people. Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek, Bulwark of the people' and 'Justice,' in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him…
The … Scribes and Pharisees … placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and said: Thou just one, in whom we ought all to have: confidence, forasmuch as the people are led, astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.' And he answered with a loud voice,' Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man ? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.' And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another,' We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.'
So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, 'Let us stone James the Just.' And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, 'I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' And while they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of the Rechabites, who are mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet, cried out, saying, 'Cease, what do ye? The just one prayeth for you. And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom. And they buried him on the spot, by the temple, and his monument still remains by the temple. He became a true witness, both to Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieged them."
According to the evidence we see in the New Testament, in Josephus, in Hegesippus, and in Eusebius, we see that James, the Bishop of the Jerusalem Church, a relative of Jesus, was a Temple-observant, practicing Jewish-Christian until the day he died. At the Temple.
What does all this mean, especially in light of the law-free Gospel that we largely inherit from St. Paul? Can Paul and James be harmonized so easily as people presume? At least as far as the conventional way of reading Paul is concerned? Some commentators seem to think that Paul and James were talking about roughly the same thing but in a different way. Were they? I have a hard time seeing how. James uses harsh polemic in his presentation, which leads me to suspect that it was more than that. (Recognizing, of course, that as with many NT writings, "James" was not written by "James", but I've never seen a scripture scholar who thought that the views expressed weren't those of James himself)
Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?
-- James 2: 20
Who is James referring to here as an ignoramus, and why? Is he calling someone who believes in faith without works an ignoramus? What are the possibilities?
Option 1) James and Paul don’t agree on faith and works. James is calling Paul an ignoramus. By this point, they have broken contact, and are now enemies. Paul is right, and James is a Judaizer, which puts the whole story of Christian origins and concordance of scripture into question.
Option 2) James and Paul don’t agree on faith and works. James is calling Paul an ignoramus. By this point, they have broken contact, and are now enemies. James is right, and Paul is a Hellenized, Herodian Jew at best and a Turkish fraud at worst, which puts the whole story of Christian origins and concordance of scripture into question.
Option 3) James and Paul agree on faith and works. James and Paul are unified, at least on what is necessary for Gentiles to be members of the Church. Regarding Jews, there remains some tension. James is calling someone who misinterprets Romans as meaning “faith alone” an ignoramus, and is issuing a corrective, because he knows what Paul really meant was:
For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
-- Galatians 5: 6.
Should we take option 3, especially in light of 2 Peter? Are there other options that I missed?
Jesus said that his mission was to the lost tribes of Israel. Speaking as a Gentile, I am glad to receive the scraps off the table. Once, I would have been far off, but by God’s grace, in his eternal plan of salvation, I have been brought near. If you’re a Gentile like me, perhaps we should just sit back and enjoy the ride. Don’t boast against the branches.
Judaism has often been caricatured in the past, but it shouldn’t happen so commonly now, especially since scholars know a lot more about Second Temple Judaism now than they did back in the 16th century, when these faith vs. works controversies were raging.
Judaism cannot be simply categorized as a legalistic religion of self-righteousness in which the Jew tries to earn his salvation through works of the law. First of all, what Jews do we mean? The Sadduccees, for example, didn’t even believe in an afterlife at all. It was the Pharisees who believed in resurrection of the body. Even today, Jewish views on the afterlife are diverse and vague. They consider it a mystery held by God. Their focus is very much on seeing justice done in this life. It is one of the things I really admire about them. They are not “pie in the sky” people. Imagine that… Loving and trusting in God for His own sake, and not for the expectation of reward or punishment in an afterlife. That’s living by faith. Therefore, for most Jews, the very concept of “salvation” really means being part of the covenant. The works of the law are markers of that covenant, and how to maintain themselves in that covenant. The Torah was not a means to salvation in the Christian sense, but was a guide to obedience to the God of the covenant. It is the “way to walk” (Halakhah).
It’s wrong to say that the Jews were unfamiliar with, or did not believe in divine grace.In the Talmud, its says, “Thus said the Holy One, blessed be His name! ‘If I create the world with the attribute of mercy, sin will abound; and if I create it with the attribute of justice, how can the world exist? Therefore, I create it with both attributes, mercy and justice, and may it thus endure”.
When Paul talks about merit, justification, and election in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, was he really telling the Jews anything that they didn’t already know or should have known? The Jews already knew that they were not chosen because of anything they had done to merit it. After the Anakim were driven from the land, they heard...
After the LORD, your God, has thrust them out of your way, do not say to yourselves, 'It is because of my merits that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land'; for it is really because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.
No, it is not because of your merits or the integrity of your heart that you are going in to take possession of their land; but the LORD, your God, is driving these nations out before you on account of their wickedness and in order to keep the promise which he made on oath to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Understand this, therefore: it is not because of your merits that the LORD, your God, is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.
Therefore say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD: Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you profaned among the nations to which you came.
I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations, in whose midst you have profaned it. Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.
For I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.
I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.
You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
When Paul tells the Jews they can’t merit justification, was he breaking new ground there? What he is breaking new ground with is the assertion that Gentiles are going to be brought in to the Kingdom of God too, without having to become Jews. The Mosaic laws were never meant for them. He uses strong polemic in his letters to disabuse the Jews of any notions of superiority. The Good News is Good News for Jews and Gentiles alike, not Bad News for Jews and Good News for Gentiles.
Can we say that in its wisdom the Universal Church acknowledged that both Paul and James belong in the Canon? There are good reasons for this, in that they both contain important universal truths. The Church was not meant to be a Gentile Christian Church or a Jewish Christian Church. It is a universal Church.
The Canon without Paul would be in danger of being Ebionite.
The Canon without James would be in danger of being Marcionite.
The Canon with Paul, and with James, and with Peter (as Pontifex – “bridge builder”) is “Catholic” (in the “universal” sense) Christian.
Should we read Paul’s role in the early Church as one that was specialized? He was a Jew who was the Apostle to the Gentiles, and he acknowledged that the Pillars of the Church - Peter, James, and John - were Jews who were Apostles to the Jews.
These men were all Jews, primarily interested in Jewish concerns. Mulling all this over, I started to become increasingly convinced that the problem with Judaism as Paul saw it was not works righteousness, but tribal exclusivity. What Paul was working so hard to do was to bring in the full measure of Gentiles so that all of Israel could be saved before the prophesied Parousia he believed was imminent. Was he interested in grafting in Gentiles, rather than in repudiating Judaism? Was his idea one of opening a covenantal relationship with all nations, or was it to replace a tribe of chosen Jews with a tribe of chosen Christians?
In Galations, Paul tells of how he told Peter he was wrong in his treatment of the Gentiles when “certain men from James” came, and how he resisted Peter to his face.
Did he have the same brass in front of James’ face when he stood before him, and the topic was not Gentiles, but Jews? Let’s see what Luke says about it in Acts…. I try to imagine James' thoughts...
When we reached Jerusalem the brothers welcomed us warmly.
The next day, Paul accompanied us on a visit to James, and all the presbyters were present. He greeted them, then proceeded to tell them in detail what God had accomplished among the Gentiles through his ministry.
--Acts 21: 17-19
“Paul is convinced that he works harder than anyone else, brothers. That’s fine, God bless him… I hope he doesn’t think, however, that we’ve been sitting here doing nothing while he’s been among the Gentiles. God has accomplished wondrous things for us here in Jerusalem. We have many followers of The Way here among the Jews, and we didn’t need to relax a letter of the law in order to do it.”
They praised God when they heard it but said to him, "Brother, you see how many thousands of believers there are from among the Jews, and they are all zealous observers of the law.
They have been informed that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to abandon Moses and that you are telling them not to circumcise their children or to observe their customary practices.
--Acts 21: 20-21
Rumor, Paul… or fact?
What is to be done? They will surely hear that you have arrived.
So do what we tell you.
--Acts 21: 22-23
Paul is not being given a suggestion. He is being given a command. Paul is not the guy in charge here. I’m not sure Peter is either. Looks like it’s James. In any event, Paul is clearly subordinate.
We have four men who have taken a vow. Take these men and purify yourself with them, and pay their expenses that they may have their heads shaved. In this way everyone will know that there is nothing to the reports they have been given about you but that you yourself live in observance of the law.
As for the Gentiles who have come to believe, we sent them our decision that they abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage."
--Acts 21: 23-25
“Paul, you should already know this. You didn’t misunderstand us, did you? You were there when we made the decision at the Council here in Jerusalem years ago, and we sent the letters up to Antioch too. The Gentiles are only beholden to the Noachide laws. No one was supposed to take this to mean that the Mosaic law was abrogated for Jews. Paul, Paul, Paul.... Tell me you didn't get this wrong.”
So Paul took the men, and on the next day after purifying himself together with them entered the temple to give notice of the day when the purification would be completed and the offering made for each of them.
--Acts 21: 26
What? No reply from Paul? He had no smack to throw down to James? He just rolled over like a fat seal? Where is all that tough talk about the Law from Romans and Galatians? If our conventional way of reading Paul is correct, here was his chance to hit James, the Jerusalem elders, and the whole “circumcision party” with the real broadside he’d been itching to give them ever since the incident with Peter at Antioch. He could have given it to them with both barrels. In the conventional way of understanding Paul, has Paul betrayed those Gentiles who contributed their hard-earned money to the collection by spending some of these funds on useless superstitions like Nazarite vows? Has Paul proven himself to be a bigger hypocrite in Jerusalem than Peter ever was in Antioch?
Or, is there another way of reading Paul? The text of Acts doesn’t say that Paul made a mistake. Paul was not a hypocrite. He was a Jew. That’s why he obeyed James without complaint or objection or comment. Maybe in our conventional way of reading Paul, we make the same error as the Asian Jews who similarly misunderstood him and attacked him in the Temple. They both see Jew vs. Gentile as a zero-sum game. It is not. The prophesy was for the redemption of all nations.
Hear me, O coastlands, listen, O distant peoples. The LORD called me from birth, from my mother's womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me.
You are my servant, he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory.
Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, Yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God.
For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, That Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; And I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
Thus says the LORD, the redeemer and the Holy One of Israel, To the one despised, whom the nations abhor, the slave of rulers: When kings see you, they shall stand up, and princes shall prostrate themselves Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you.
Is this more along the lines of what Paul was talking about? More on this later...