Saturday, May 12, 2012

James - The Caliph of Christ

 James - The Caliph of Christ

James or Jacob was and is a very popular Jewish name. There are quite a few significant people called James in the New Testament (NT). This article is concerned with James the brother of Jesus, the leader of the first Christian community of Jesus’ followers. James has been severely neglected by Biblical scholars; however, the last couple of centuries have witnessed a surge of interest in this fundamental figure of early Christianity. Many Biblical and NT scholars have begun to realise that a thorough understanding of James and his role in early Christianity sheds new light on the historical Jesus and presents a powerful contrast to the Pauline Christianity so many Christians take for granted.

Who was James? Many Christians are incredulous when they are informed that Jesus had brothers and sisters. The highly acclaimed academic Butz informs us that “the subject of Jesus’ brothers and sisters has largely been ignored both by biblical scholars and by the Christian church. Yet the evidence of Jesus’ siblings is so widespread that there can be no doubt of their existence.” 1 James was considered particularly important by the first followers of Jesus. Soon after Jesus’ ascension the disciples rallied around his younger brother James, and he became the leader of the Jerusalem Church. James’ significance is reflected in the many epithets by which he was known such as “the brother of the Lord”, “the Just”, “the righteous” and “brother of Jesus”. One leading scholar, Vermes, maintains that “it was because of his ‘outstanding virtue’ that Peter, James and John would choose James the Righteous, rather than one of themselves, for the most honourable post of bishop of Jerusalem.”2 Significantly, James is the only New Testament figure mentioned by Josephus3 in his seminal work Jewish Antiquities after John The Baptist and Jesus himself. Eusibus4 informs us that “he was holy from his birth; he drank no wine or intoxicating liquor and ate no animal food; no razor came near his head......and was often found on his knees beseeching forgiveness for the people, so that his knees grew hard like a camel’s from his continual bending them in worship of God.”5

Prof. Barrie Wilson maintains that James was a Nazarite in the mould of another neglected NT figure John the Baptist. “James, in fact, was a Nazarite or ‘super Jew’, like his cousin John the Baptist....... a Nazirite was a Torah-observant Jew who had taken a
special vow of dedication to God. Their rabbi was Jesus, and it was his interpretation of Torah that commanded their allegiance.”6
James’ exact relationship to Jesus is debated by Biblical scholars. The three most popular views amongst are the following:
 A literal brother: Jesus is referred to as the first born of Mary. So many scholars maintain that James was a younger brother, keeping in line with Mosaic Law to be fruitful and multiply. This seems the most rational and historically accurate position but causes fundamental problems for a variety of important doctrines such as the Catholic doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.7
 A step brother: Catholic scholars generally hold that James was not related to Mary at all. They point out amongst other things that Jesus is referred to as “the son of Mary” rather than “a son of Mary”.
 A cousin: Some scholars hold that James was most likely a cousin of Jesus. They maintain that there is no word for cousin in Hebrew or Aramaic and thus any references to Jesus’ brothers or sisters is itself insufficient proof of full-blood relationship.

James’ familial relationship to Jesus does not retract from the thesis of this article, so there is no need to expound upon the above opinions here. All NT scholars attest to the importance of James after Jesus’ ascension and this is made clear in the NT itself8. Scholars are virtually unanimous that James became “Bishop” of the Jerusalem Church and he was selected due to three main qualities, his righteousness, zeal for the ‘way’ of Jesus and Law of Moses, and his familial relationship to Jesus (whatever form that took).
Scholars differ as to when James took full control of the Jerusalem Church. The majority maintain that James succeeded Peter and only held the reins after Peter’s escape from prison (41-44CE). However, this opinion is in fact quite tentative. Acts doesn’t explicitly name any single leader of the Jerusalem Church. Eusebius, who was writing in the 4th Century, informs us that James is “recorded to have been the first to be made bishop of the church of Jerusalem”. 9He doesn’t see the need to justify this statement so we can assume it was a widely held belief amongst the early Christians. Butz maintains that the idea of Peter being the first Bishop was a result of Catholic interpretive tradition which has become an unfounded assumption that many scholars maintain without much historical evidence. In contrary, F.F Bruce suggests that James may have been the head of one house-church whist Peter led another. None the less once Peter turns full time to travelling missionary work James is the highest authority in Jerusalem, if he wasn’t already, and remains so until his martyrdom (62 CE).

James the Martyr
James was a very significant figure in 1st Century Jerusalem not only amongst his own community but also the “orthodox” Jews. He was beloved by the people of city and had great admiration from the common folk. However, as is often the case, this popular support threatened many of the elites of society. Ananus the high-priest at the time brought James before a Jewish court and accused him along with others of transgressing the Law and had them stoned to death. The religiously observant Jews of Jerusalem were outraged at what they saw as a clear injustice and invalid execution of one of their most pious citizens. According to Josephus they petitioned King Agrippa and had Ananus removed from his position as high-priest.

Ananus’ removal from office is highly significant for a number of reasons. He had only been in the post for a few months and came from a highly influential family that had dominated the priesthood for the last sixty years. This indicates that James was a very important and revered figure who must have had powerful advocates. Some scholars, such as Crossan, have even postulated that James could have been in Jerusalem even before Jesus’ ascension and may have been a respected Pharisaic leader. The importance of the Pharisees and Jesus respectful attitude towards them has been largely obscured by the Gospel writers and many scholars have suggested that the NT has a bias against this group due to their strict observance of the Law. None the less we find a startling reference to this Jewish group in the Sermon on the Mount. According to Matthew Jesus proclaimed:
1st Century remnants of the steps to the Jerusalem Temple
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:20)

It seems that the Pharisees were considered a standard of sincerity and righteousness which the followers of Jesus were expected to surpass by following him, but certainly not by rejecting the fundamentals of the Mosaic Law (as understood by Pauline Christians). As Matthew informs us in the preceding verses:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. (Mt 5:17)

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.(Mt 5:19)

James’ missionary work was very successful amongst the Jews of Jerusalem. Many were accepting the ‘Good News’ of Jesus the Messiah and this was causing a stir amongst the opponents of the early Jewish Christians. The NT due to its Pauline slant doesn’t shine much light upon the efforts of the Jerusalem Apostles in contrast to its focus upon the missionary efforts of Paul and his companions. However, Acts clearly indicates the success and spread of

Jewish Christianity in Jerusalem:
The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. (Acts 21:18-21)
The Early Church Father and historian Eusebius maintained the leaders of a number of Jewish sects plotted the death of James. They demanded that he deny and reject Jesus the Messiah in front of the people who were entering by ‘the gate of Jesus’10 in their droves. Jesus’ prophecy of the imminent destruction of The Temple must have become well known amongst the Temple elites and this coupled with the growth of Jewish Christianity was too much for them to bear, so they murdered James unjustly.
“Representatives ......asked him what was meant by ‘the gate of Jesus’ and he replied that Jesus was the Saviour.......there was an uproar among the Jews and scribes and Pharisees, who said there was a danger that the entire people would expect Jesus as the Christ[Messiah].......So they went up and threw down the Just one. Then they said to each other, ‘Let us stone James the Just,’ and began to stone him.......” 11

James and the First Jerusalem Conference
The following section will briefly discuss the First Jerusalem Conference (or Apostolic Conference) due to its significance for understanding early Christianity and James’ standing therein. The events of the Jerusalem Conference highlight many of the fundamental differences between the Jerusalem Church led by James and Paul. A thorough understanding of the conference reveals why James became such a controversial figure for latter theologians and why his voice has been so marginalized and remains so to this day. It should become clear that both James and Paul cannot be right about Jesus, and the proto-orthodox Church simply couldn’t find room to accommodate the both of them.
Scholars rely mostly upon Acts (the fifth book of the NT) an account of the early efforts of the Apostles, to recreate this important event. Despite, Luke’s12 obvious Pauline influence Acts reveals a lot about James and his differing approach to Paul and his companions. We are informed in Acts that there was a meeting of all the key leaders of the early church at Jerusalem.
“When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the Law of Moses.’ The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter.” (Acts 15: 4-6)
What was this urgent ‘matter’ that needed to be discussed? Paul’s proclamation that faith in Christ alone was sufficient had caused turmoil and was firmly rejected by the Jews. The Jews were accusing him of apostasy from the Law. Acts informs us that Paul was even stoned during a visit to a gentile church .
“But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.” (Acts 14: 19)  

The increasing number of converts to the ‘Way of Jesus’ posed some theological concerns. What exactly was the status of these new followers of Christ? These were not Jews but Gentiles; surely they had to accept the Mosaic Law like all other Jews? This would include circumcision, abstaining from meat slaughtered to idols, blood and fornication etc. It had reached the Apostles in Jerusalem that Paul was giving these new converts false expectations and they sent people to investigate. This matter simply had to be resolved. Thus Paul and his companions travelled to Jerusalem to meet with James and the elders of the Jerusalem Church to finally settle the matter. At this point we should bear in mind Butz’s cautionary words that “Jesus and his earliest followers were thoroughly Jewish in their beliefs and practices. The only thing that distinguished the Nazarenes at all was their firm belief that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. Therefore, it was only natural for these first Jewish believers to expect anyone wishing to follow Jesus to become a Jew.”13

We are informed in Acts that after testimony was heard from all sides it was James that made the final verdict. This is a very important fact and speaks volumes about James’ importance and leadership and that he wasn’t merely an administrator but considered authoritative on early doctrinal issues. According to Acts James made a short speech:
“After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘My brothers, listen to me...... I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.” (Acts 12:13-19)
The decision by James is termed the Apostolic Decree and is considered one of the earliest and most important Church rulings. Paul, emboldened by James decision, leaves Jerusalem and continues with his missionary work with renewed vigour.

James Versus Paul
Not long after the Jerusalem Conference rumours began to reach Jerusalem that Paul was not abiding by the decision of James at the Jerusalem Council and had begun to preach that even Jews who accepted Jesus Christ had no need for the Mosaic Law. When Paul makes his final visit to Jerusalem seven years later James confronts him directly.
“You teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done?” (Acts 21:21)

Paul had fundamentally differing theological views to the Apostles. He envisaged a Christianity that was absent of Mosaic Law. This was a complete contrast to the position held by James and the Jerusalem Church. Paul was not only encouraging Gentiles but also Jews to forsake the Law. This is clearly evidenced in a number of NT passages, for example:
“Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you...... For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” (Gal 5:2-6)

“For no human being will be justified in his sight by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin...... For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith....... For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” (Rm 3:20-28)

One of the ramifications of Paul’s new vision was that many of the new converts to the ‘way of Jesus’ were previously pagans and took his words a little too literally. It began to reach James and the Apostles at Jerusalem that Paul’s new converts were falling into decadence and debauchery. Some of the Christians in Corinth understood that all things were permissible. They publicly used prostitutes and even became involved in idolatry! Thus Paul warned them:

“The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord......Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her?......Shun fornication!” (1 Cor 6:13-18)
They had misunderstood Paul’s preaching as a complete moral free for all. Paul himself was shocked by this turn of events. In another of Pauls’ letters he gave a stern warning.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence...... Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:13-21)

The rift between Paul and James continued to grow until things came to a head at the infamous Incident at Antioch; where Peter and Paul had significant fallout over a directive from James.
Butz puts it in perspective, “The Incident at Antioch starkly shows that the apostolic period was not a time of sweetness and light with the earliest followers of Jesus all living as one big happy family, as assumed by most Christians today; on the contrary, it was a time of bitter rivalries as various parties and factions began to vie for supremacy.”14

Paul was beginning to see himself as an independent authority who was equal if not superior to James and the Apostles. Paul’s perspective is made clear in his own words in his letter Galatians.
“And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those leaders contributed nothing to me......But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” (Gal 2:6-14)

Paul’s arrogance is astounding. He speaks about James and the Apostles in a very condescending tone and considers them to have done nothing for him! They are hypocrites in his eyes, Peter and Barnabus too. In Corinthians when warning some new converts to only follow the Gospel as understood by him, he proclaims “I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles.” (2 Cor 11:5)

Contrary to popular Christian understanding, Paul was clearly defeated at Antioch. Once the messengers from James arrived Peter and even more significantly Barnabus, Pauls close missionary companion, towed the line and sided with James. Once again we have clear evidence of James authority on matters of doctrine. Paul has now severed his last links with Jesus’ closest allies and disciples and proceeds with his own missionary efforts. Revd. Dr. Wenham, a leading British theologian, points out that “today we may think of Paul as an important and influential figure. But all the evidence is that he was initially regarded by many other Christians with suspicion. He spent very little time in Jerusalem, and he had no part in the leadership of the church in the earliest days.”15
Galatians in P46, 200CE

Paul makes one more journey to Jerusalem and there is literally rioting in the streets upon his arrival. He had become infamous amongst the ‘orthodox’ Jews as an apostate from the Mosaic Law. He would surely have been stoned if it weren’t for the Romans who took him into custody. As a Roman citizen Paul managed to have his case heard in the highest courts. Yet Luke is silent of any support for Paul from the Jewish Christians who seem to have finally washed their hands of him.
Here is Luke’s account in Acts: “the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, shouting, ‘Fellow-Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place......Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. While they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Immediately he took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. When they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came, arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; he inquired who he was and what he had done.......the violence of the mob was so great that he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, ‘Away with him!’” (Acts 21:27-36)

The Forgotten Brother
“After years of research, I have come to the conclusion that the role of James in the early church has been marginalized over the centuries-both consciously and unconsciously-and continues the role of James in the early church.”16 These words are the powerful verdict of Butz one of the foremost experts on James the Just. When one reflects on the significance of James it seems unjust that such a significant historical figure has been reduced for so long to a mere footnote in Christianity. However, the last half-century has seen resurgence in the quest for the historical Jesus often dubbed ‘The Third Quest’. One of the aspects about the scholarly approach taken by theologians and historians today is a more honest regard for Jesus as a person independent of years of doctrine, dogma and tradition which so blinded the previous searches into the historical Jesus.

Why would James’ role be suppressed? There are quite a few reasons why the historical James has been such an inconvenience for so long. Below is summary of the most significant:

 James and the early Jewish Christians held views about Jesus that are simply too radically different to what the emerging Church would later claim as orthodoxy.

 James along with Jesus’ other brothers and sisters were an inconvenience to the early proponents of the concept of The Perpetual Virginity of Mary the mother of Jesus. Rather than deal with exactly who they were it was much easier to ignore and sideline them all together.

 Pauline Christianity is the basis for all of the mainstream Christian sects that survive today to a greater or lesser extent. The historical fact that Paul’s greatest opponent was James, the leader of the first Jerusalem Church has always been a great embarrassment to mainstream Christianity. It is painfully clear both men couldn’t be right about Jesus. Could Paul be the one who got it all so wrong?

 The New Testament itself is a product of Pauline Christianity, with over half of the NT written by Paul or his companions. The earliest books of the NT are all attributed to Paul and all of the Gospel writers were most likely living and writing in Pauline communities. Luke the author of Acts and Mark the Gospel writer were both most likely companions of Paul. The promotion of James entails the demotion of Paul and thus a subtle rejection of the Christian Canon itself and all that entails.

The above list could be expanded quite significantly; however, it should be sufficient to show why James’ role has been so marginalized and who benefits from such suppression. The renowned scholar Bauckham, previously Professor of NT studies at St. Andrews University, explains that “Paul had an unusual sense of his own apostolic independence from Jerusalem, and since many of the New Testament writings date from after 70 CE, when the Jerusalem church inevitably lost its role in the Christian movement outside Palestine, the impression the New Testament gives most reader does not do justice to the importance either of the Jerusalem church or of James himself in the period before 70.”17

Who Do People Say That I am?
‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ (Mk 8:27-29)

According to Mark, Jesus himself posed the question which has plagued the minds of so many for so long. Who was Jesus? Peter knew the answer, he was the Messiah. What would James have answered? Well as it happens, James was indeed asked this question many times and answered it univocally. Yet his answer remains unknown to most and it’s not the answer they would expect.
Butz warns that “as Jesus’ eldest brother, he [James] knew the ‘mind of the master’ better than anyone. And if he did, Christians today are going to have to re-evaluate some of their most deeply held assumptions and beliefs about Jesus and his teaching” He continues, “one of the firm conclusions modern research into James has revealed is that neither Jesus’ family, nor the apostles, nor his Jewish disciples, believed that Jesus was literally God. They believed that Jesus was the Davidic Messiah, ‘adopted’ by God as his ‘son’ at his baptism by John, but still a human being.”18

What else would James tell us about his brother Jesus the Messiah?
 Jesus was a Prophet from God.
 Entering through the ‘gate of Jesus’ meant obeying him and following his example.
 The true uncorrupted Torah should be respected and followed.
 Precedence, honour and respect should be given to those who actually knew Jesus, followed him and learnt from him.
 Jesus will return in glory and honour.
 Jesus’ ‘way’ was centred on Mosaic Law, prayer and charity
 Jesus as the Messiah was the fulfilment of the Torah.
 Faith in Christ alone is insufficient for salvation. Faith must be coupled with sincere works.

It is important to understand what James ‘knew’ about Jesus not just what others ‘thought’ and ‘felt’, sincerely or otherwise. The closer we get to James the closer we get to Jesus. We will not find the Jesus of Christian faith and admiration, but certainly the Jesus of history, the person, the Prophet and Messiah. Prof. Barrie Wilson, a leading expert on 1st Century Christianity informs us “As James, so Jesus. The best indicator of what Jesus of the 20s actually taught is likely to be James, his brother. James knew the man and what he stood for. He knew Jesus taught and practiced Torah, as they did.......the example of James is the best clue we have today concerning the beliefs and practices of the Jesus of history.”19

The Letter of James
One of the most important sources for understanding James the Just is the Letter (Epistle) of James. It is one of the few Jewish Christian texts of the NT and in a number of places clearly contradicts Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith; as a result, it was one of the most controversial texts to be canonized. Many scholars have noted that The Letter of James’ position tucked away at the back of the Bible encourages Bible readers to see The Letter of James as little more than an appendix to the Pauline works that dominate the first half of the New Testament. Eusebius considered it “among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many.”20 Martin Luther21, the father of the Protestant movement strongly disliked the Letter of James and famously attacked its contradiction of justification by faith. He proclaimed, “I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books.” Although most Lutheran theologians did not take such a harsh line, Luther none the less established an important tradition whose influence is still felt today. Bauckham informs us that “Luther’s principle of a canon within the canon, determined by discrimination among the New Testament books as to which of them clearly convey the Gospel of Christ, remained extremely influential much of modern New Testament scholarship which is heavily indebted to the work of German Lutheran scholars.” 22 However, it is important to note that our oldest listing of the NT Canon (one of the letter of Athanasius in 367CE) actually places James after Acts with the Pauline letters at the end just before Revelation. This order is still used in the Eastern Churches to this day. Although academics attempt to approach the NT holistically, the vast majority of lay-people read the Bible as they would any other book, from beginning to end. The letter of James being a mere addition to what they have already learnt from Paul. Many leading scholars, such as Tischendorf, restored the ancient order in their critical editions of the NT but they are still a rarity.

There is much academic discussion over who was the actual author of The Letter of James. However, it is quite clear who the writer claimed to be, James the leader of the Jerusalem Church. The letter opens with James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”(James 1:1) James (Jacob) was a very popular name amongst Jews and Christians and there is only one James that was prominent enough to be referred to simply as ‘James’ without further clarification normally by reference to his father. It is not possible here to enter into a prolonged discussion detailing the different arguments for whether James the brother of Jesus is the true author or not. Bauckham came to the conclusion that “the letter can be read as what it purports to be: an encyclical from James of Jerusalem to the Diaspora.” 23 Wilson takes a similar stance, “It is unclear, however, if this document was written by James himself prior to his death in 62 or by a devoted follower..... Whatever its authorship, it reflects the views of the Jesus Movement......”24

The most relevant part of The Letter of James for our purposes is where he explicitly rejects Paulinism and argues strongly that true faith is evidenced by righteous actions which entails following the Law. Here is the relevant section in full:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:14-24)

It is quite clear that the Letter of James has a very different understanding of faith to Paul. Many scholars have tried desperately to reconcile James and Paul and deny the obvious contrast between their views on faith and Law. Others have realised the futility and difficulty and simply ignore James and his letter as much as possible. Yet there has always been a love-hate relationship with the Letter of James. There is an inherent danger in the doctrine of justification that it may be misunderstood and lead to a disregard for morality in general. Paul himself had to deal with such occurrences during his own life time and Christian communities have always struggled with trying to enforce and encourage morality whilst also preaching the superiority of ‘love’ and ‘faith’ over good works. Thus James’ Letter has held an important and essential complimentary role as a check and balance against extreme Paulinism.

The Torch Still Burns
Many of the NT scholars that have been bold enough to approach James afresh have come to the disturbing conclusion that the beliefs, even the religion of James and the Jerusalem Church are not at all similar to normative Christianity. “Everything points to the conclusion that the leaders of the so-called ‘Jerusalem Church’ were not Christians in any sense that would be intelligible to Christians of a later date.”25 The well known academic and researcher Akers came to a similar conclusion as a result of his extensive studies into the first Jewish-Christian communities. “The books seeking to understand the Jewishness of Jesus are now legion. Yet almost no one wants to confront the problem of Jewish Christianity. The reason for this reluctance is not hard to find; the views of Jewish Christianity are not those of most Christians. The theology is of course unacceptable, being in essence a form of Jewish monotheism.”26 Wilson believes that the fact that Christians don’t follow the religion of Jesus is one the greatest cover-ups of history. He contends that “the original message of Jesus and the Jesus movement, Jesus’ earliest followers in Jerusalem became switched for a different religion. This other religion......was the Christ movement developed by Paul in the Diaspora......the religion of Paul became grafted onto the original religion led by James.”27
The brave scholars that have taken on centuries of academic tradition trying to bring forward the importance of James and what he tells us about Christ have often come to an even more startling revelation. There is in fact a community who have maintained the correct beliefs about Jesus and continued the efforts of James. Two leading world-renowned scholars who have been brazen enough to bring this to the public’s attention are Butz and Tabor. Who realized that unbeknown to most Christians “it is more than intriguing that the Muslim understanding of Jesus is very much in conformity with the first Christian orthodoxy-the original Jewish Christian understanding of Jesus.”28

Isa bin Maryam
The following is a very brief overview of how Jesus(or Isa) is viewed in Islam. By bringing to light relevant verses of The Quran along with authentic narrations of the Prophet Muhammad it is clear that the orthodox Islamic view is intriguingly similar to that held by Jesus’ closest companions.

The Islamic Jesus, like all the prophets and messengers, focused primarily on the unique oneness of Allah (God). Allah informs us in the Noble Quran, “They have certainly disbelieved who say, “Allah is the Messiah, the son of Mary" while the Messiah has said, "O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord." (Quran 5:72). This verse of the Quran is very similar to Jesus’ statement in the Gospel of Mark, Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” (Mk 12.29)29

Jesus’ closest disciples didn’t worship Jesus at all, and certainly didn’t believe he shared any of God’s divine attributes in the slightest. The Quran whilst mentioning many of the miracles that Jesus performed by the permission of Allah makes clear that such feats do not in any way suggest Jesus was divine. For example, “Allah will say, "O Jesus, Son of Mary, remember My favour upon you and upon your mother when I supported you with the Pure Spirit and you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and [remember] when I taught you writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when you designed from clay [what was] like the form of a bird with My permission, then you breathed into it, and it became a bird with My permission; and you healed the blind and the leper with My permission; and when you brought forth the dead with My permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from [killing] you when you came to them with clear proofs......” (Quran 5:110) Jesus, along with all of the creation, is far removed from Allah who no one or anything resembles in the least. Allah says, Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, "Be," and he was.(Quran 3:59).

The earliest Jewish-Christians who actually knew Jesus personally and centered their theology around what he taught, did not have any Trinitarian notions of God. Rather James and the other disciples rejected Paul’s increasingly fanciful philosophical theories and believed in sticking closely to ‘the way’ of Jesus. Christianity today has strayed far from the original teachings of the Messiah. Prof. Ziffer informs us “Christianity today, with its many denominational expressions, its various faith affirmations and rituals, is far removed from the religion of Jesus of Nazareth, the first century Galilean Jewish teacher.”30 Likewise the Quran reminds the Jews and Christians that they should fear Allah and speak truthfully concerning matters of religion. Jesus did not preach anything remotely similar to the doctrine of the Trinity and it is a great slander against him to suggest otherwise. Rather, The Quran says “O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, "Three"; desist - it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs.” (Quran 4:171) Muslims believe all of the Prophets and Messengers were special and honorable, but they heed the command of their Prophet Muhammad who warned, "Do not exaggerate in praising me as the Christians praised the son of Mary, for I am only a Slave. So, call me the Slave of Allah and His Apostle." (Bk 4:55:654)

Both the Quran and the NT reference Jesus’ special conception. All Muslims, like the vast majority of Christians, believe in the virgin-birth of Jesus the Messiah, however; they place its significance elsewhere. Jesus was born of a virgin and the Quran is explicit in this regard, “She [Mary] said, "How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?" (Quran 19:20) Jesus’ miraculous birth causes the believers to increase in faith and devotion to Allah the exalted, rather than toward his creation. Muslims like Jesus’ closest disciples do not consider the virgin-birth an aspect of divinity. In fact, for Christians to do so is an inconsistent point of view. For Jesus was not the first Prophet or Messenger to be born in a remarkable way. For example, Isaac (Ishaq) ,John (Yahya), Benjamin (Binyameen),Samuel (Samu’eel ), Samson (Shamshoun) and Mary (Maryam) all had miraculous conceptions or births, and Eve (Hawa) was created miraculously from her husband Adam. Adam, who was created without a mother or father, has more right to be worshipped on that basis than Jesus. Rather, the Muslims believe as Allah says “It is easy for Me, for I created you before, while you were nothing.”(Quran 19:9)

Intriguingly the Noble Quran even makes subtle reference to the history of early Christianity. In the chapter titled Maryam we are informed, “[Jesus said], "And indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path." Then the factions differed [concerning Jesus] from among them, so woe to those who disbelieved - from the scene of a tremendous Day.” (Quran 19:36-38) The Quran is clear that Jesus’ mission and purpose was simply and eloquently conveyed to the Jewish people yet shortly after his ascension they differed amongst themselves concerning him and his call. In the second chapter of the Quran Allah informs mankind, “And We [Allah] gave Jesus, the Son of Mary, clear proofs, and We supported him with the Pure Spirit. If Allah had willed, those [generations] succeeding them would not have fought each other after the clear proofs had come to them. But they differed, and some of them believed and some of them disbelieved. And if Allah had willed, they would not have fought each other, but Allah does what He intends.” (Quran 2:253) Although the above verses may seem rather obvious to the modern reader who has at his disposal the hindsight of the last two centuries of modern research into early Christianity. The view we find in the Quran pre-dates the quest for the historical Jesus by some 1,200 years! For over a millennia the status quo amongst western scholarship was that the early followers of Jesus galvanized almost immediately after Jesus’ ascension, and they were a unified community. For many Christians there is an assumption that what we consider to be ‘orthodox’ today has always been the case. The famous scholar Ehrman explains that “the victors in the struggles to establish Christian orthodoxy not only won their theological battles, they also rewrote the history of the conflict; later readers, then, naturally assumed that the victorious views had been embraced by the vast majority of Christians from the very beginning all the way back to Jesus and his closest followers, the apostles.”31 The fundamental differences between the Pauline Churches and the Jerusalem community headed by James were seen as separate strands of one body. The idea that there were different groups with major theological differences so soon after Jesus is now a solid but relatively recent scholarly consensus. Butz informs us that “Today, however, many scholars are taking a rather more startling position on the question of Christianity’s origins by pushing it forward several decades after Jesus, arguing that the Christian Church was not actually started by Jesus at all, but by Paul.......And there are a number of scholars who take the even more radical position that Christianity as we know it today really began centuries later, in the year 325, when the Council of Nicaea officially declared what was orthodox Christian doctrine and what wasn’t.......”32
The fact that people who claimed to be followers of Jesus differed about him and took varying stances towards him was the normal pattern of behaviour after each and every Prophet of God. Rather, it would have been stranger if it were not the case. In an authentic narration “The Messenger of Allah [Muhammad] observed: Never a Prophet had been sent before me by Allah towards his nation who had not among his people (his) disciples and companions who followed his ways and obeyed his command. Then there came after them their successors who said whatever they did not practice, and practiced whatever they were not commanded to do. He who strove against them with his hand was a believer: he who strove against them with his tongue was a believer, and he who strove against them with his heart was a believer and beyond that there is no faith even to the extent of a mustard seed...... “(MS 1:81)
The important question is not whether people differed about Jesus, but how we ascertain who held the correct views about him. What is a sound and consistent methodology for deciding whether a stance is legitimate or not?

The Islamic answer to this important question applies equally to all the messengers and prophets of God. In matters of religion the correct understanding is that which is accordance with Allah and his messengers. Allah says in the Quran, “Say, "We have believed in Allah and in what was revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Descendants, and in what was given to Moses and Jesus and to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims [submitting] to Him." (Quran 3:84) It is not allowed for a person to speculate about Allah mixing truth with fiction, philosophy with facts. It is Allah who informs mankind about Himself as befits his Majesty. In the Quran we are warned “O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth.” (Quran 4:171) Those people who were not honoured with accompanying the Prophets and Messengers should not be arrogant but submit themselves to those who were. By what logic or intellect could a person claim to have more knowledge about Abraham than his sons Ishmael and Isaac? Who could claim to understand Moses more than his brother and fellow Prophet Aaron? Similarly, who would be audacious enough to precede the disciples of Jesus amongst whom was his noble mother Mary in claiming knowledge about him? However, the exception to this rule is when a Prophet speaks about another Prophet who he never met. He does this on the authority of revelation. It is Allah who informs him concerning these matters. “We relate to you, [O Muhammad], the best of stories in what We have revealed to you of this Qur'an although you were, before it, among the unaware.” (Quran 12:3) Jesus and Mohammed both spoke about the previous Prophets and nations upon the authority of revelation. According to Matthew “the crowds were astounded at his [Jesus’] teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” (Mt 7:28-29)Allah informs that he would have dealt a severe punishment to Muhammad if he had made false speech concerning religion, “[That] indeed, the Qur'an is the word of a noble Messenger. And it is not the word of a poet; little do you believe. Nor the word of a soothsayer; little do you remember. [It is] a revelation from the Lord of the worlds. And if Muhammad had made up about Us some [false] sayings, We would have seized him by the right hand; Then We would have cut from him the aorta. And there is no one of you who could prevent [Us] from him.” (Quran 69:40-47)

After we reflect upon the above principle and apply it to the debate between James and Paul as discussed previously it becomes apparent who has the authority to speak concerning such matters and who doesn’t. Paul, although he never met or walked with Jesus, took a very different stance on important theological issues in contrast to the Jerusalem church that was recognised by Jesus’ disciples and headed by James the Just. Although Paul’s letters in the NT make for interesting reading they are at the end of the day speculation and theory. He simply didn’t know Jesus and didn’t have much regard for the historical facts of his mission. Wenham whilst discussing whether Paul was interested in the real Jesus maintains that “His [Paul’s] failure to quote Jesus and to retell the stories of Jesus is one of the main arguments for the view that Paul was a religious innovator with his own ideas, rather than a faithful follower of none of his letters does Paul show any obvious knowledge of, or apparent interest in, those stories......Instead he gives his own idea and opinions.”33

One of the most important similarities between James and Islam is the understanding of the purpose of the Prophets and Messengers and Allah’s Wisdom and Mercy in sending them to humanity. For James and the earliest disciples the significance of Jesus was not in the mystery of his birth or ascension. These miracles were confirmation of the prophet hood not the sole purpose of it. His raison d’être was what he said and did, his example. He was sent but to convey and be obeyed concerning all matters of religion. According to John, “Jesus said to him [Thomas], ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.....” (Jn 14:6) The Quran corroborates the above verse. It is clear that Jesus offered salvation to the Jewish people. Following Jesus is the manifestation of loving God and a rejection of him is a hatred of God. The disciples of Jesus were honoured with accepting this invitation and salvation. “O you who have believed, be supporters of Allah, as when Jesus, the son of Mary, said to the disciples, "Who are my supporters for Allah?" The disciples said, "We are supporters of Allah." And a faction of the Children of Israel believed and a faction disbelieved.” (Quran 61:14)
As the famous saying goes, “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery”, the early Christians understood that the true love of Christ is the following of his commandments. Thus we find “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15) This is in stark contrast to Pauline Christianity and its focus on justification by faith. James rejected Paul’s rhetoric due to his proximity to and intimate knowledge of the real Jesus and his close association with Jesus’ other disciples. The early Jewish-Christians heeded Jesus’ powerful warning “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” (Mt 7:21-23) The schism that began between James and Paul escalated amongst their respective followers. Such was the enmity between the early Jewish-Christians and followers of Paul that they considered Paul an apostate and false-prophet. Many Christians try to show that Paul had a legitimate historical basis to his gospel and that he must have met early followers of Jesus and learnt from them. However this argument is contrary to Paul’s own claims. Paul is absolutely adamant that he received a revelation of his own and that his theories are not dependent on any of Jesus’ companions. He begins his letter Galatians “Paul an apostle-sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities......For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ”. (Gal1:1-12) They rejected Paul’s gospel for the true Gospel of Christ and rejected his call to abandon the Law of Moses because it was burdensome and believed strongly that true faith is evidence in good deeds. They heeded the powerful advice of Jesus in the famous parables of the narrow gate, and the tree and its fruits, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.” (Mt 7:13-20) Renowned academic and NT scholar Levine maintains that “the idea that Jesus voided the Sabbath, declared all foods clean, and otherwise dismissed the Torah is an invention that met the needs of the growing gentile church.”34 Muslims agree with the early Jewish-Christians that Jesus did not abandon the Torah. In fact, he came to confirm it and reminded the Jews of its correct interpretation and rulings. In addition to the Torah he was sent with a new message, the Gospel (Al-Injeel) which was a compliment to rather than a complete replacement of the Mosaic scripture. Allah says, “And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous.” (Quran 5:46)
In summary, the Prophet said, "If anyone testifies that None has the right to be worshipped but Allah Alone Who has no partners, and that Muhammad is His Slave and His Apostle, and that Jesus is Allah's Slave and His Apostle and His Word which He bestowed on Mary and a Spirit created by Him, and that Paradise is true, and Hell is true, Allah will admit him into Paradise with the deeds which he had done even if those deeds were few." (BK 4:55:644)

Who was James? James the Just was a righteous follower of Jesus and faithfully maintained ‘the way’ of Christ such that he was stoned to death for his convictions. He organized and led the early disciples after Jesus’ ascension and combated all those who tried to pervert the true Gospel, Paul of Tarsus chief amongst them. James was considered authoritative in matters of doctrine by the first community of Jesus’ followers which was comprised of Jesus’ most loyal and knowledgeable companions. We would do well to remember Wilson’s principle “As James, so Jesus......the example of James is the best clue we have today concerning the beliefs and practices of the Jesus of history.” 35 One of the best sources for understanding James and what he believed is the Letter attributed to him in the NT. In it we are struck by his compassion, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” His humility, “For all of us make many mistakes.” His strength of faith, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” His abstinence, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” His patience, “The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” His modesty, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” His awe of God, “Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money." Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that."

“And We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth. To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.” (Quran 5:48)

1 J.Butz, The Brother of Jesus and The Lost Teachings of Christianity, Pg.8, Inner Traditions 2005
2 G.Vermes, Who’s Who in the Age of Jesus, Pg. 128, Penguin 2005
3 Titus Flavius Josephus was a 1st Century Jewish-Roman historian who provides some rare independent non-Christian accounts of early Christianity.
4 Eusebius of Caesarea was an early 4th Century Roman historian and influential Christian scholar.
5 Eusebius, History of The Church (Bk2,Ch23,5-6)
6 B Wilson, How Jesus Became Christian, Pg. 97, Phoenix 2009
7 Catholic doctrine maintains that Mary was ever-virgin for her entire life, Jesus being her only child. The doctrine had wide support by as early as the 4th Century. Although most Protestant churches teach the virgin birth, they do not have a problem with Mary having other children after Jesus.
8 See Gal 1:18-19, 1 Cor 15:7 and Acts 12:17
9 Eusebius, History of The Church (Bk1,Ch1,2)
10 ‘The Gate of Jesus’ or ‘Way of Jesus’ are a couple of the earliest labels attributed to the followers of Jesus the Messiah. The popular term ‘Christian’ actually began in the Pauline Church of Antioch (Acts 11:26). In fact the early followers of Jesus were known as Nazarenes, which is used fourteen times in the NT in contrast to the three usages of Christian.
11 Eusebius, History of The Church (Bk2,Ch23,8-16)
12 Luke the Physician is traditionally considered the author of The Gospel of Luke and Acts and was a companion and disciple of Paul. He was most likely a Gentile and native of Antioch. Eusebius informs us that Luke also translated some of Paul’s letters from the Hebrew into Greek. Some scholars doubt whether Luke the companion of Paul and the author of Acts could also be the Gospel writer due to inconsistencies and contradictions between the two texts.
St. Peter’s Church in Antioch. One of Christianities oldest churches.
13 J Butz, The Secret Legacy of Jesus, Pg 92 , Inner Traditions 2010
14 J Butz, The Secret Legacy of Jesus, Pg 99 , Inner Traditions 2010
15 D Wenham, Did St Paul Get Jesus Right?, Chap 3, Par. 29, Lion Books 2011 (Kindle Edition)
16 J Butz, The Brother of Jesus and The Lost Teachings of Christianity, Pg xi, Inner Traditions 2005
17 R. Bauckham, James, Pg 17, Routledge 1999
18 J Butz, The Brother of Jesus and The Lost Teachings of Christianity, Pg 186, Inner Traditions 2005
19 B Wilson, How Jesus Became Christian, Pg. 98, Phoenix 2009
20 Eusebius, History of The Church (Bk3,Ch25,3)
21 Luther (1483-1546) was a leading figure of the Protestant movement against the Catholic Church. Luther believed that salvation is not earned by works but only as a gift of God’s grace. Luther challenged Rome on a number of doctrinal issues and was eventually pronounced a heretic, and the Emperor permitted anyone to kill him on sight. Luther came to the conclusion that justification was the key to all of Christianity and even considered good works done to achieve redemption as sinful. Luther relied mostly upon the Pauline letters to justify his stance and naturally saw the Letter of James’ understanding of good works and the Law as a contradiction of his beliefs.
22 R. Bauckham, James, Pg.117, Routledge 1999
23 R. Bauckham, James Pg.25, Routledge 1999
24 B Wilson, How Jesus Became Christian, Pg. 152, Phoenix 2009
25 J Butz, The Brother of Jesus and The Lost Teachings of Christianity, Pg. 151, Inner Traditions 2005
26 K Akers, The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity, Pg.226, Lantern Books 2000 (Kindle Edition)
27 B Wilson, How Jesus Became Christian Pg. 2, Phoenix 2009
28 J Butz, The Brother of Jesus and The Lost Teachings of Christianity, Pg. 186, Inner Traditions 2005
29 This statement is known in Judaism as the Shema. It is the fundamental testimony of faith for the Jewish people. It serves a similar function to the Shahada in Islam. It is an obligation in both religions to recite at various times, places and during certain rituals. Like the Shahada for Muslims, Jews hope their last words are the Shema. The Christians have mostly abandoned the Shema taught to them by Jesus as attested in both the Quran and Bible in favour of Paul’s innovated version (1 Cor 8:6) which adds the idolatrous concept of creation through Christ.
30 W Ziffer, The Birth of Christianity from the Matrix of Judaism, Pg. 60, AuthorHouse 2006
31 B Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament, Pg.2, Oxford 2005
32 J Butz, The Secret Legacy of Jesus, Pg 50 , Inner Traditions 2010
33 D Wenham, Did St Paul Get Jesus Right?, Chap. 4, Par. 2, Lion Books 2011 (Kindle Edition)
34 A Levine, The Misunderstood Jew, Pg. 172, HarperCollins 2006
35 B Wilson, How Jesus Became Christian, Pg.98, Phoenix 2009

Courtesy :    Talib Morrison

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