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CH101 - The First CenturyThe Primitive Church - 30 - 100 A.D.
James, the brother of Jesus
But Clement in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes writes thus: "For they say that Peter and James and John after the ascension of our Saviour, as if also preferred by our Lord, strove not after honor, but chose James the Just bishop of Jerusalem." But the same writer, in the seventh book of the same work, relates also the following things concerning him: "The Lord after his resurrection imparted knowledge to James the Just and to John and Peter, and they imparted it to the rest of the apostles, and the rest of the apostles to the seventy, of whom Barnabas was one. - Church History II.1.3-5
But Hegesippus, who lived immediately after the apostles, gives the most accurate account in the fifth book of his Memoirs. He writes as follows: "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....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...
- Church History II.23.5-6
We cannot trust these traditions completely, but it is clear that such an early tradition did exist. This indicates the need of the second century fathers to understand and explain how James could have had such a leadership position since he certainly did not have a prominent role in the Acts account until chapter 15. Yet it is clear that James held a place of authority. Paul refers to James as a leader (Gal. 1:19; 2:9) and indicates that he had been the recipient of a post-resurrection vision:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. - 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
The reason for this discussion on James, Paul, and the Jerusalem Council is to understand the struggle of the early church with respect to the issue of the Gentile believers. The first Christians, and the initial leadership, was Jewish. By the late 50's Paul's evangelistic reach into the Gentile world had grown to such an extent that Christianity was becoming more Gentile than Jewish. It was Paul's custom to appoint leadership in each church when he left for his next destination. As Paul's Gentile churches grew in number, the leadership base grew and the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem probably felt their influence diminishing.
"James the Just" vs the Apostle Paul
There are several data points that give evidence to a struggle between the Apostle Paul and the brother of Jesus, known in the early church as "James the Just." I do not want to engage in this debate, but I will quickly list the data. I am sure this will bring some comments my way.
- the record in Acts 15
Although Paul and James do not have open dispute in what we call the Jerusalem Council, Paul's autobiographical comments in Galatians make it a bit more clear that he did not view James as THE leader of Christ's Church (see Gal 1:17; 2:6-9; 2:11-13).
- the four commands from Acts 15
James the Just gives the pronouncement that Gentiles were "You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.." v29
In his writing Paul objects to all dietary restrictions:
One personís faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. - Romans 14:2
I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean....For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit...All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. - Romans 14:14-20 (emphasis added)
But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. - 1 Cor 8:8
1 Cor 8 - the entire chapter is given to eating meat offered to idols. Paul is nuanced, but does not support the Acts 15 prohibition.
All the Pauline writings taken together make it clear that food laws are not required. Paul seems to say that IF a person wants to follow food laws he/she can, but nothing is unclean in itself.
- Galatians and the Epistle of James
The apparent polemical nature of letter of James the Just against Paul's letter to the Galatians. I realize that most Christians will say that these two documents are not in disagreement, but we have another set of ancient texts that seem to address this apparent conflict: these texts are known as the Pseudo-Clementine Literature which includes Homilies, Recognitions of Clement, and The Preaching of Peter.
James the Just vs Paul
Pseudo-Clementine Literature (more to be added....)
For some from among the Gentiles have rejected my legal preaching, attaching themselves to certain lawless and trifling preaching of the man who is my enemy....to transform my words by certain various interpretations, in order to the dissolution of the law; as though I also myself were of such a mind, but did not freely proclaim it, which God forbid! For such a thing were to act in opposition to the law of God which was spoken by Moses... (emphasis added)
Some scholars see this "enemy" as a reference to Paul; others see it as a reference to Simon Magus, the man Peter is indeed actively engaging in debate in the story. Those who see Paul as an "enemy" of Peter are drawing this conclusion from the characteristics listed above which does seem to point to the theological differences of Paul and James.
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