Were James and Paul united?

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I was recently reading a section of James Dunns book Unity and Diversity in the New Testament and I came across a comment that I disagreed with in regards to Paul’s relationship to the Jewish church headed by James inJerusalem. Here is what I thought:

Dunn explains the depth of the division between the Gentile and Jewish Christians in the first century by comparing the Jewish Christian’s faithfulness to the law with the Gentile Christians non-observance of it and also by the Jewish Christian’s denigration of Paul and exultation of James.[1] This division is evident in the New Testament, and it was enough of an issue that the church leaders met on several occasions to discuss a way forward. Firstly, they met at the council of Jerusalem[2], and when Paul travelled to Jerusalem before being arrested by the state he met with James[3], and lastly, Paul mentions other meetings, or possibly recounts the meetings previously mentioned, in Galatians 1:18 and 2:1. On all of these occasions the Bible presents us with James and Paul in unity with one another, because it was evident that God was working through the Holy Spirit and Paul’s ministry, and therefore James and the elders at Jerusalem were happy to accept him.[4] However, Dunn questions whether this amicability ran down to the grass-root believers in the Jewish camp. He emphasises the fact that there were no Christians that came to Paul’s aid when he was arrested in Jerusalem[5] (Acts 21) coupled with the fact that James had previously warned him that there were rumours in the Jerusalem church that Paul taught Gentile Christians to ‘forsake Moses’[6]

Where were the Jerusalem Christians? It looks very much as though they had washed their hands of Paul, left him to stew in his own juice. If so it implies a fundamental antipathy on the part of the Jewish Christians to Paul himself and to what he stood for[7] 

Dunn never suggests that there wasn’t an understanding between Paul and James themselves, but he does very much question whether there were not groups in the Jerusalem church that were hostile to Paul. He even suggests that the disagreement between Paul and Peter recorded in Galatians 2: 11-14, which we read about from Paul’s perspective, and for which we are not given a narrative resolution, was in fact an event where the church at Antiochsided with Peter against Paul. Therefore Dunn writes: This episode would thus mark the end of Paul’s specific association with Antioch and his emergence as a fully independent missionary.[8] If this were the case, we would expect there to be a difference in theology between the Gentile and Jewish believers, because this would effectively mark a point in canonical scripture where the two camps disagreed, and potentially didn’t come to a resolution, which is shocking.             

            If this is historically correct, then it would not seem unlikely that Paul and James’ understanding of justification differ (Romans 4, James 2), because Paul worked primarily with the Gentiles, and James with the Jews. However, there is evidence from the New Testament that James, Paul and Peter did agree, and discussed this very matter, at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. The question that then remains is whether or not the Jerusalem Council took place before or after Peter and Paul’s disagreement in Galatia. If the dissagreement took place before Acts 15 then it is possible that the disagreement was not resolved, as Dunn uses the later meeting between Paul and James in Acts 21 as almost superficial, and certainly does not refer to it as a resolution. If the Jerusalem Council took place after the stand-off at Galatia, then Acts 15 proves that there was an understanding between the apostles,[9] and even suggests that the incident atGalatia was, in fact, resolved amicably.

However, I would argue that there is good evidence that the book of Galatians was written before the Jerusalem Council. Although the dating of Galatians is closely linked with whether Paul was writing to the Ethnic Galatia or the Roman Provincial Galatia, the main reason for believing that Galatians was written before the Council is because the Council is never mentioned in the letter to the Galatians. The whole of Galatians is an argument as to why the Gentiles do not need to perform ‘works of the law’, or need to be circumcised. Seeing as these were precisely what was discussed at the Jerusalem Council, it is shocking that it was not mentioned if it indeed had taken place before the letter was written. The fact that it isn’t mentioned points to the better explanation: at the time of writing, it hadn’t yet happened.[10] Therefore, I can assume that there was theological agreement between the apostles, and can also agree to disagree with Dunn that the Galatian episode would thus mark the end of Paul’s specific association with Antioch and his emergence as a fully independent missionary. Having said this, on many other points I agreed with Dunn, but on this specific issue I had to get my thoughts on to paper and ague my point!


[1] Dunn, p.282

[2] Acts 15

[3] Act 21

[4] Acts 15:8, Acts 21:19-20

[5] Dunn, p. 277

[6] Acts 21:21

[7] Dunn, p. 277

[8] Ibid. p. 274

[9] Gidley, James, James and Justification by Faith. 2011. James and Justification by Faith. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH05/02a.html. [Accessed 29 November 2011].

[10] ESV Study Bible, P. 2241

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  1. #1 by T. Kurt Jaros on April 30, 2012 - 11:04 am

    You’re biblical observations are good. But perhaps more quickly, Dunn’s false assumption is here: “If so it implies a fundamental antipathy on the part of the Jewish Christians to Paul himself and to what he stood for.”

    Why think that? If Dunn is going to do some historical speculation, it could be the case that the Christians didn’t abandon Paul in the theological disagreements. Rather, it could be that they abandoned him because they feared being arrested as well. They might have thought that the faith had a better chance of survival, the less people that got arrested.

    • #2 by Emmaus At Twilight on April 30, 2012 - 11:12 am

      You make a very good point. In fact, now that you’ve said it, I feel like slapping myself on the head, and saying ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’

      • #3 by T. Kurt Jaros on April 30, 2012 - 11:15 am

        Sometimes taking the scenic, longer route is more enjoyable.

      • #4 by Emmaus At Twilight on April 30, 2012 - 11:20 am

        Indeed it is! 🙂

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