CH101 - The First CenturyThe Primitive Church - 30 - 100 AD
James, the brother of Jesus
For the remainder of the history given by Luke, James is barely mentioned again, and Peter is absent. In chapter 21 Paul makes another visit to Jerusalem to meet with the leadership and the only name mentioned is James. Other than the letter attributed to James, he is only mentioned three times in all of the NT. How did James become the leader of the Church in Jerusalem? The answer comes from an early church tradition recorded in Eusebius' Church History. Eusebius quotes from some earlier writings that now only exist through his quotations:
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:
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.
In addition to the Pauline outreach there are indications that the gospel was spreading outside immediate apostolic influence. There is no clear record of an apostolic visit to Rome, yet Paul writes a letter to the Romans addressing what appears to be an already stable community with Jewish and Gentile believers. In Acts 18:24-25 a man named Apollos appears on the scene with "a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord." He needed some teaching concerning the Holy Spirit, but appears to have clearly understood the gospel of Jesus. [Read about the theory that Apollos was the author of New Testament Hebrews] Early tradition recorded in the fragments of Papias tell us that Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, had taken an early copy of his gospel to Egypt.
Another tradition says that Barnabas and Mark actually preached in the streets of Alexandria. These traditions may have been attempts at explaining the Apollos text, but are certainly not impossible. What is clear is that the missionary outreach of the church had taken hold.
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 person's 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....)
The documents known under the name Pseudo-Clementine Literature probably dates into the second century (possibly late second century). It is important to know that there is plenty of disagreement among scholars regarding these documents, thus I have no inclination to make too many dogmatic statements. I will give the things we know from this body of literature.
The earliest tradition attributes authorship of some of these documents to "Pope Clement I of Rome," the man we believe led the church of Rome at the end of the first century - the same author typically seen for 1 Clement. This is disputed by many good scholars, thus the possibility of a much later date. Here are characteristics we can agree on that allows one to say that the Clementine Literature points to a tradition that Paul and James (and Peter) were not in agreement:
- the Apostle Paul is not mentioned
- Pauline theology is noticeably absent
- the tone is Ebionitic in nature, a witness to a more Jewish-style community
In addition, there is one particular instance where an "enemy" of Peter is mentioned. This reference is in the Letter of Peter to James where "Peter" refers to the "enemy:"
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.