James and Paul

The relationship of James and Paul has generated a great deal of literature since Martin Luther made his famous declaration that the letter of James as an “epistle of straw.” Luther’s objection to James was his belief that Paul’s doctrine of “justification by faith” was in opposition to the “dead legalism” of the Pharisees. For Luther, James represents Judaism, Paul “real Christianity.” As is well-known in the post-New Perspective world, Luther read Paul in the light of his own struggle against the Catholic theology and to a large extent understood the legalists and Pharisees as Proto-Pelagians, and Paul was a good Protestant against that legalism.

james-and-paulThere are a number of problems with this, not the least of which is that Luther misunderstood the Judaism of the first century as a “works for salvation” religion. It is not that Luther was misguided, but the study of the Second Temple period only developed in the second half of the twentieth century. The discovery of the DSS and the collection of Second Temple period documents into convenient collections made access to this vast literature possible for New Testament scholars.

Luther’s view was strengthened by protestant liberal readings of Paul in the nineteenth century. F. C. Bauer understood the early church as a division between a Pauline (Gentile) Christianity and Peterine (Jewish) Christianity. Bauer only accepted Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Galatians as authentically Pauline, skewing Paul’s theology and over-emphasizing the problem of Gentile salvation. He also dismissed Acts as an accurate source for history, considering it to be written quite late, yet accepting the Pseudo-Clementines as having considerable value. This served to make the divide between Paul and James even greater, since the Pseudo-Clementines record a violent disagreement between the two men which is not recorded in Acts. For Bauer, James is a late pseudonymous letter attempting to find common ground between Paul Gentile Christianity and Peter’s Jewish wing of the church. It is almost axiomatic that Bauer’s views were extreme and are almost universally rejected in modern New Testament studies.

“Loosening the Pauline Connection.” Perhaps Luke Timothy Johnson is correct in his Anchor Bible Commentary on James, where he recommends scholars “loosen the Pauline connection.”  He points out that only 12 of the 108 verse in James have anything to do with Paul. By over exaggerating the importance of those verses, both James and Paul are distorted.

James and Paul Making Up

The reason for this is the natural attraction of simplicity – two theologies in dialogue are much easier to integrate into a systematic theology than the broader, wide ranging early church and the many varieties of Second Temple Judaism. Christian theology has developed almost entirely as a result of the study of Paul’s writings. Johnson argues that we ought to therefore take the Pauline debate out of our discussion of James and let James stand on his own as a representative of Jewish Christianity which may (or may not) be in dialogue with Paul. “What is it that James says?” should be the question.

Johnson also argues that “conflict models” need to be rejected. This begins by recognizing that the legendary elements which are found in the Pseudo-Clemetines are in fact legendary and have no basis in fact. Johnson also advocates a more realistic assessment of the book of Acts, regarding it as generally historical in most details.

Once these two basic decisions are made, then Galatians, Acts and James are not to be seen in great conflict with one another, but generally in agreement. The Jerusalem church (as represented by James) agrees with Paul’s theology of “no law for the gentile.” There is no reason to assume a violent conflict between the two. Diversity does not require conflict – although this too needs to be tempered since there is eventually a degree to which diversity can no longer be tolerated. Within the New Testament, no writer goes beyond what is required to be faithful.

Johnson is correct that we must avoid “anachronistic readings” of James and Paul based on later theological structures. Keep Calvinism out of the discussion and present James, Paul and the Pharisees along a continuum of Second Temple period Judaism!

10 thoughts on “James and Paul

  1. As discussed in class the Letter of James is definitely a Jewish Christian document. Johnson’s assertion to understand James through a Jewish “lens” makes perfect sense. Probably the most obvious reason for this is the addressed audience. The recipients of the Letter are of the Diaspora Jewish community (James 1:1). Some of the historical evidences, apart from the Letter’s salutation, that support this are as follows. The dating of James’ composition is “between AD 33 and 62” (Jobes, 158). During that time period there was much “Jewish-Greek tension” that included “synagogue destruction” (Treblico, 289). In fact a “slaughter of a large number of Jews” occurred and the huge loss of life “decimated the Diaspora communities concerned” (Treblico, 290).

    The early Jewish Christians who had not completely dissolved from their organic Semitic beliefs definitely experienced much of the persecution as described above. James’ preliminary remarks are to encourage an audience that has suffered greatly for its faith. In fact, the author implores the readers to “persevere” and “mature” under such afflictions (James 1:2-4). He urges the recipients to “believe and not doubt” and not be “blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:5). His attempt to inspire is noted when he writes, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because… that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised…” (James 1:12).

    Knowing to whom the Letter is written allows for a deeper appreciation and understanding of the message of James. The early Jewish Christians would have struggled with the idea of how to keep “the law” for salvation – as that is how they were brought up (Treblico, 298). Rather than emphasizing these traditional outward Jewish law keeping customs, James invokes a “practical theology of faith in action” (Jobes, 221). The message of James to the preliminary Jewish Christians was one of encouragement to emulate a Godly lifestyle out of gratefulness for the Salvation that was provided.

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  2. When i hear thoughts about this argument between Paul and James, i have to laugh to myself a bit. I simply find it ironic that two of the major church fathers in our religion are thought to be in misalignment and even quarrelsome (according to the pseudo-clementines, we even find Paul to throwing James down the temple steps to be stoned). How could such dissension arise between the two (even though i’m sure there was some difference in opinion), when they are both preaching peace and love in living out one’s faith. I might argue that this “conflict” is something that we blow up in our minds because they use similar but seemingly contradictory language, and in a brief overview of James 2:14-26 and Ephesians 2:8-9 you can see how it might bring that assumption. But as we dig into the context and motivation behind the writings we find that they are not contradictory but supplementary to one another. In Paul’s case, he is leading Gentiles to faith and explaining what saved by grace truly means. This is an all out free gift that we can’t do anything to earn. When James is talking he is speaking to Jewish Christians who are trying to work out their salvation in Jesus Christ when they have followed the law their whole life. I would argue that Paul is speaking in terms of how to attain salvation, while James is talking about how you should live out that salvation. I think that they are on the same page in regards to how to gain salvation and live it out, they are just touching on different aspects of that topic. We may even see James using this similar language because he is clarifying some incorrect ideas that people may be getting from Paul’s writings (from their own interpretation), and is setting them straight in saying, “Paul is right, but don’t forget about how to work out that salvation.” It is ironic as well that one of the main passages that we point to for this grace message is Ephesians 2:8-9, and yet in verse 10 it says that we are created to do good works in Christ Jesus. “Instead of seeing James 2:14-26 as in some way undermining or opposing Paul’s teaching that works cannot save, we should read James as explaining the nature of the faith that saves… The kind of faith that saves is a life-transforming faith that changes one’s character and behavior by the fruit of the spirit, as Paul would say it, or by deeds of social justice as James has put it” (*Jobes 173-174). It looks to me like this issue between James and Paul is not nearly as big as we make it, and one can even make the argument that they were simply referring to different issues surrounding the same topic.

    *Jobes, Karen. Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles

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  3. I completely agree that it is vitally important to understand that James was not disagreeing, or trying to undermine the things Paul was teaching, he was simply speaking to a completely different audience. Even Paul thought that Jews ought to “live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them” (1 Corinthians 7:17). I think that this is the key. We need to understand that Paul in his letter to the Galatians (which is most often used to argue that he and James were in opposition), was in response to great frustration that the church was being deceived. He wanted them to understand that they were not Jewish, and did not have to follow Jewish Law. Paul’s message is one that says we can only be saved by grace, and only because of what Jesus did for everyone on the cross. James is preaching the same message. However Paul was frustrated by Jewish people trying to convince the Gentiles that they needed to become something else in order to receive this salvation. It’s almost as if these Jews though that being a Christian was actually to be be some sort of “super Jew”. Basically, they thought that a person must first follow all the Jewish customs, and then they could be a part of the church and really follow Jesus. It is a weird example of Jewish pride, in that they were almost jealous that God would want to deal with anybody else but them. James is speaking to these very same Jews, and telling them that they ought to actually be following the things they were trying to deceive these gentiles into doing. James wanted them live out their new faith in the context of the Jewish lifestyle which they have already been living, and were preaching. He never makes a statement that Jews ought to convince the Gentile converts to follow these customs, only that the “twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1) ought to actually be acting on, and working out, the faith that they have in God because of the salvation they have received.

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  4. It seems quite fascinating to me that two servants of the same God could have so much trouble getting along, I don’t know too much about the two of them walloping each other on the temple steps but I can hardly imagine the frustration each one felt towards the other. But the most important thing that we can do to see the difference here is to see the difference in each of their audience’s, James was teaching the Jewish Christians about how they should live their lives for Christ with such passages as “faith without works is dead” in James chapter two. But Paul is teaching Gentiles, many of which have much less knowledge about Jesus than the Jews, about how they must first accept Jesus as their savior. Both lessons make sense but they do not belong together or in any way different from how they are, James could not teach Gentiles and Paul could not teach Jews. But the meaning behind what the two men were saying is similar, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as your savior whether it is by taking the first step of accepting him into your heart or living a Christian life to be an example to others.

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  5. Holy long posts guys..
    I would agree with Mr. Adam Renberg in what he said about Paul and James being on the same page with salvation, but addressing different aspects of the topic. “James was not writing in reference to justification but rather to describe the moral responsibilities that flow from saving faith” (Jobes 219). These moral responsibilities are not to be understood as opposing Paul’s writings, instead they correlate better to passages such as Galatians 5. Paul in Galatians 5:16-26, describe how believers are to walk in the Spirit, which is an action, a thing that they must put effort into. I think that James and Paul are in accord that as a result of a saving faith, there is some sort of action.
    It makes sense that Paul would have been writing an argument centered on salvation by faith and grace alone because the people he was writing to were struggling with enslaving themselves to the ‘yoke of slavery’ (Galatians 5:1) again. In the same way, it makes sense for James to be centering his argument on faith and works as he was writing to a people struggling with integrating both of those. If I were trying to help someone lose weight, I would focus my argument on exercising more and eating more healthily. But if I had to help someone who was too concerned with their body and possibly anorexic, I would focus my argument on exercising less and eating more. These arguments wouldn’t contradict each other, they would actually meet in the middle where there is a healthy balance. I think Paul and James had a similar situation in which they led a person to the same spot, but had to push them in different directions to get there.

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  6. The main point is that Paul and James are looking at two different sides of the same coin, and therefore do not have to be considered at odds with each other, much like what Josh said. Paul looks at the entrance into salvation, in that it is not by works but by faith. And James is looking at the result – what does real faith look like.
    In relation to Adam’s point about verse 10 following after Eph. 2:8-9, Paul doesn’t set forth God’s grace to be abused. All throughout the book of Romans he gives stern warnings to those who thought they could sin all the more that grace may abound. He also said in Phil. 2:12 to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” This comes on the tail end of his instruction at the beginning of chapter 2 that if believers have “any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit” (Phil.2:1), they should show this by putting others above themselves.
    And just as Paul brings balance into his argument, even James “crosses over the line” when he says in Jas. 1:18 that by “[God’s] own will he brought us forth by the word of truth…” This shows that God was the one acting and working through his grace to give us life through the truth. And it is not by any act or accomplishment that we have done that we can somehow earn salvation.

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  7. This perceived conflict between Paul and James can be seen, but as the above posters have shown, this conflict can also be pushed aside to reveal unity between the two. I personally agree with the idea that Josh, Adam, and Jobes stress, “James was not writing in reference to justification, but rather to describe the moral responsibilities that flow from saving faith” (Jobes 219). The message of James to act on our faith is one that all believers can agree on, but I am not quite sure that satisfies all the perceived conflict.

    There are a few questions to this Paul/James dilemma that I am unsure of. If James is written to a Jewish Christian audience, and he advocates that the Jews should continue to uphold the “royal law”, should this still be expected of Jewish Christians today? Or perhaps are there no more Jewish Christians? Also, how would a Jew know which parts to uphold, when Gentile equality shatters the boundary set by the law?

    Paul shares a law-free gospel with Jews and Gentiles. Acts 15 decides that Gentiles do not need to follow the law. In, Galatians 5, Paul makes it very clear that following the law severs them from Christ, “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (Gal 5:3-4). So unless Paul was speaking to a completely Gentile audience, it is easy to perceive that Paul had a different message than James about the law for a similar audience. The fact that Gal 5:1 states to “…not submit again to a yoke of slavery” can be evidence that that Paul wrote for a mixed audience of Jewish and Gentile Christians. Perhaps we are dismissing the conflicting teachings between the two a bit too easily for the sake of a unity.

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  8. I agree with what Johnson says about the differences of James and Paul, and it’s not because he shares my last name. Like what others have said before me, I think it is clear that the two apostles are talking about different parts of the subject of salvation. It is clear that there is no disagreement as to
    what salvation is and who brings it to us. Like Jon said, I see it as Paul speaking more on how to gain salvation, and James speaking more on how to live with salvation. I do see why it is hard not to compare and contrast the writings of the two, because they seem to be so connected, or disconnected, depending on how you look at it. But I agree with Johnson when he says that
    we should respect the independence of the two, because both have their place. I also agree that we should not dwell on the possibility of conflict between the two. There are not many direct attacks on either one by James or Paul, if any. The truth is, James and Paul were both faithful believers and followers of Jesus Christ, and they both have their place in encouraging believers to receive salvation, and live it out.

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  9. Man, these posts are like small books.

    I think in metaphors and analogies and for me to fully understand something I have to have it related to something now and modern. So that is what I’ll try to do with this post. I believe that Paul and James have had similar backgrounds. Both very religious men that have always had a firm faith. In the time that these texts were written and collected there were two different type of Christians, much like today. Christians that grew up in a Christian, God fearing home. And the Christians that were brought into the Church, which are considered “first generation Christians.” I believe that both of these groups have leaders. Paul and James are these leaders. Like today we have leaders that are, modern, if you will. For example, Mark Driscoll. This man is a person that focuses on hard people that have had hard lives. Then look at John Piper. A man that has an audience that looks like a bunch of Choir boys. These men write to their audiences, both of these mens audiences need Jesus. Both of the audiences need to hear about Him, and live for Him in different ways.

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    • It is true Piper can preach to the choir, but he is also trying to communicate something. In the case of “justification” in James vs. Paul, it is possible they use the same word in to different ways – we have to be savvy enough to read the writer in the right context. Perhaps reading Piper through the lens of N. T. Wright will skew what he says, so too will reading James through the lens of Paul.

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