Jewish Christian Literature and Pauline Theology


Another common element in descriptions of Jewish Christian is “anti-Paulinism.” To what extent does a given document disagree with Paul and Pauline theology? There is a wide range of opinion on what Paul’s theology really was, especially in the wake of the New Perspective on Paul. For some writers, James clearly disagrees with Paul, but for others there is no real disagreement between the two on the relationship of faith and works.

Paul and James hug it out

Is there evidence of “differences” in theology between the Jewish-Christian writers and Paul in the New Testament? Acts 21 seems to indicate that at least some in the Jerusalem church were suspicious of Paul’s theology and his understanding of the Law. Whether Acts 21:21 implies that James believed Paul to have “turned away from the customs of Moses” is an open question, but at the very least some in the Jerusalem community were not supporters of Paul! Paul’s conflict with Peter and Barnabas in Galatians 2 may be another example of resistance to Paul’s view of the Law. I personally think that John Mark’s “defection” in Acts 13:13 is a reaction to Paul’s condemnation of Elymas and his contact with the Roman proconsul on Cyprus. It might even be possible to find some evidence of division in Ephesus in the background of 1 Timothy that is “anti-Paul.”

Because most readers of the New Testament do not hear these echoes of division, Hagner’s second point is hardest to test in the biblical material. Perhaps we want to think that the earliest days of the church were theological pure and wholly unified and this skews our reading. But there was some tension between the Jerusalem community and Paul, even if it is only hinted at in the New Testament.

For example, James 2:14-26 is at least potentially “anti-Pauline,” although most commentators on James work hard to show Paul and James are not contradictory. To what extent is James “anti-Paul”? If James was written very early, it is possible that James had never read Paul’s theology (a copy of Galatians or Romans, for example) since Paul has not written anything yet! If so, James may be reacting to Pauline Theology as it has been reported to him, not as it actually was being taught. On the other hand, there is no reason to think that more extreme applications of Paul’s theology did not appear early on. There may very well have been Jews who rejected Law in favor of Paul’s doctrine of Grace and therefore are attacked by James. (I am not against the idea that James is actually arguing against Paul, but that is for another posting.)

It is sometimes hard for people living after the Reformation that anyone rejected Paul’s theology or that there were groups in the early church that considered Paul the heretic. For many people today, Paul’s theology is Christian theology. Imagine writing a book on Salvation without referring to Paul’s letters! Yet there were at least some sub-Christian groups that did reject Paul’s letters as authoritative sources for developing doctrine.  It is still an open question that the seeds of this anti-Pauline theology existed in the Apostolic period.

Is there anything in the Jewish-Christian literature that might help with this question? James 2:14-26 and 2 Peter 3:15-16 are two places where Paul is in the background – are there others? By way of application, to what extent is the modern church pro- or anti- Pauline in their way of doing theology?