HOW PAUL AND LUKE REWROTE HISTORY TO MARGINALIZE JAMES’ EARLY CHURCH
“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, the unique Christian/atheist blog that brings it all together.
The motto of this enterprise is More Jesus, Less Christ, no God!
One of the aims of this blog is to understand what happened in the years following Jesus’ crucifixion. Many people have fixed opinions for which there is no reliable evidence. Was the church united or divided? Can we rely on the Acts of the Apostles? Picking his way through this minefield is yet another brilliant American scholar called Professor James D. Tabor. I’ve only just discovered him, but I shall be quoting from him at length in the future. It’s always gratifying to find an expert whose views correspond closely to one’s own!
I hope you find this both interesting and useful,
Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”
1/ Jesus, like all his six or more brothers and sisters, James, Joses, Judas, Simon and more than one unnamed girl (Mark 6:3), were the flesh and blood products of flesh and blood sexual coitus, presumably between Mary and Joseph. Forget parthenogenesis; virgin birth only occurs in a few primitive invertebrates, and Mary certainly wasn’t that.
2/ Saint Luke wrote the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, or at least an author who subsequently got labelled as “Luke” did. We shall never know his true identity, so I propose to stick with “Luke”. This guy was pro-Paul and anti-James, and this bias shows up in all his writings. I propose to show that this matters a lot as it affects the way things turned out.
3/ The followers of Jesus after his death were split down the middle into two rival camps that were barely on speaking terms:
(a) those, mainly Jewish, followers lead by Jesus’ brother James the Just (he’s the James that Luke is anti), and Peter and John in Jerusalem; and
(b) those Gentiles lead by the newcomer and late developer Paul, who was not even one of the 12 apostles chosen and taught by Jesus. (In fact Paul never met Jesus or read the gospels.)
Let’s look at the beliefs and biases of these two protagonists for the soul of the baby church in the decades after Jesus’ death:
First: St James’ lot (Peter, John, the apostles Jesus chose and taught, and Jesus’ family members like his brother Jude). They had the field to themselves for a decade or more after Jesus’ death.
They believed the following:
1/ observe the Torah
2/ worship in the synagogue
3/ remember and honour Jesus as the group’s martyred teacher and Messiah
4/ NB they neither worshipped nor divinized Jesus as the Son of God,
5/ nor did they believe he died for our sins
6/ they practised no ritual of baptism into Christ
7/ they had no Holy Communion, eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ, as a guarantee of eternal life
8/ the kingdom of God was nigh, and God’s righteous rule of peace and justice among all nations was imminent
9/ therefore,everyone should repent, turn to God and live righteously
Their biases against the offshoot group led by Paul
They summoned Paul to Jerusalem to answer charges that his teaching was unorthodox, and that he, a Jew, had personally given up an observant Jewish life. They specifically accused him of telling Jews that they needn’t bother with circumcision, eating kosher, observing the Sabbath or other Jewish holy days, or even following the Torah. (Acts 21: 17-26; Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16-17).
Secondly, in his Epistle, James directly disputes Paul’s teaching of “salvation by faith” without deeds of righteousness (James 2: 14, 17; 1:25)
Second, Paul’s rival church (Paul, Luke, Barnabas and gentiles in various communities from Rome to Antioch)
They believed the following
1/ the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross
2/ receiving the Holy Spirit and eternal life by faith in Jesus’ resurrection
3/ a glorified heavenly reign with Christ when he returns in the clouds of heaven
4/ baptism as an experiential verification of this understanding of ‘salvation’
5/ the ‘Lord’s Supper’ has the same function
Their biases against the original church in Jerusalem
The bible shows how little love was lost between the 2 rival factions. In essence, Paul rated his visions of Jesus more important than the apostles’ experience of living and working with Jesus.
1/ In Galatians 2:6, 9 Paul sarcastically refers to James, Peter and John as “the so-called pillars” of the Jerusalem church and “those reputed to be someone”, but adds “what they are means nothing to me.”
2/ In 2 Corinthians 11:5, 13, written by Paul in the middle to late 50’s C.E., we read “I am not the least inferior to these super-apostles” and these “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” This is the point at which Paul makes the clear and decisive break with the Jerusalem establishment.
3/ He had also become terribly bitter against his fellow Jewish Christians who maintained their Jewish faith: “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh,” sarcastically referring to the practice of circumcision (Philippians 3:2).
Luke was Paul’s partner in crime and a doctor – a spin doctor!
Just as with any other historical document, to get the most out of the New Testament one needs to look for bias, for spin, for inventions, for insertions and for omissions. That’s what Bible Study should be all about (but rarely is!). As I’ve outlined in my 3 earlier posts about “Jesus’s communist brother James” (links below), James the Just was Jesus’s flesh and blood brother and the Epistle of James is attributed to him. He lead the Jerusalem ‘church’ until his death in 62 C.E., and was more important than Peter “the first pope” and John. The point of all this is that he had to be written out of history so that Paul and his followers could take the credit for the strong growth of the baby church, and so that Paul’s botched up theology, which had nothing to do with Jesus’s teaching, could prevail.
Here’s how Paul’s ally Luke did it
1/ In the early chapters of Acts, Luke never even mentions James by name and casts Peter and John, the other 2 “pillars”, as the undisputed leaders of Jesus’ followers, effectively blurring out James entirely. His major agenda in the book is to promote the centrality of the mission and message of Paul.
2/ Once Paul appears in chapter 9 of Acts the remaining 15 chapters are entirely about him. Even Peter begins to drop out of the picture after chapter 12. This suppression of James is systematic and deliberate.
3/ Scholars are agreed that Mark was the first of the synoptic gospels to be written, and that Luke and Matthew relied heavily on him as a source. Consider the following examples of Luke rewording Mark:
(i) “is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3)
“Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Lk 4:22)
By omitting the names of the brothers Luke clearly intends to make the brothers, and James in particular, virtually invisible.
(ii) At the crucifixion, “Mary, the mother of James and Joses was present.” (Mark)
“the women [unnamed] who had followed him from Galilee” (Lk 23:49)
(iii) At the tomb “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses” were present. (Mk 15;47) becomes
“the women [again unnamed] who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb.” (Lk 23:55)
Ask yourself: what’s Luke’s game?
Back to Acts: at the meeting to choose a successor to Judas Iscariot who had killed himself, Luke names the 11 who gathered in the upper room, then, in a sentence that has served to marginalize the Jesus family for the last 1900 years, Luke adds “All these [the eleven] were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus as well as his brothers [unnamed]” (Acts 1:13-14) he also puts Peter and John at the head of the list giving them primacy of the twelve (Lk 6:14), changing the order of his earlier list. He was fully aware that the three pillars of the Jesus movement were James, Peter and John, in that order – but who would ever imagine that James was actually installed as leader over the newly constituted council of the twelve, as Luke omits that entirely.
Luke doesn’t dare write the Jesus family out of his account entirely, as he has to later reluctantly admit that James was in charge of the entire movement.
This bold editing could not be accidental, and it runs through both Luke and Acts. As Professor Tabor puts it, “it is clearly part of the author’s central agenda to recast the history of the early movement so that James and the family of Jesus are muted and Paul emerges as the ultimate hero who proclaims the true gospel to the world.”
It worked. The propaganda and spin were excellently contrived, and by the time the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, it was Paul’s doctrines that became the official religion of the empire. Supporting James and co. became a crime, a heresy, a punishable offence. Say Good bye to Jesus’s teachings, ethical system and wisdom. Say Hello to Paul’s original spiritual claptrap.
Setting the scene
In Tabor’s words “the entire New Testament canon is largely a post-Paul and pro-Paul production…The thirteen letters attributed to Paul make up nearly one quarter of the New Testament and they are the primary documents that have shaped the course of Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Protestant Christianity. Jesus will always be the centre of Christianity, but the ‘Jesus’ who most influenced history was the ‘Jesus Christ’ of Paul, not the historical figure of Jesus. All of us, whether Christian or not, whether wittingly or unwittingly, are heirs of Paul, since the parameters of Christ and his heavenly kingdom created by Paul were what shaped Christian civilization.”
How the church conveniently ‘lost’ Jesus’ siblings
Catholics e.g. the church father Jerome (4th century) claimed the brothers mentioned and named in the N.T. were cousins, since both Mary and Joseph remained virgins throughout their lives.
Eastern Catholics represented by Epiphanius reckoned they were children of Joseph from an earlier marriage.
Many Protestants think Mary and Joseph had other ‘natural’ children after Jesus who would have been Jesus’ half brothers since Jesus had no human father.
So how could this ‘James’ possibly have been a brother of Jesus if Mary, Jesus’ mother, remained a virgin throughout her life? See how the doctrine of the virgin birth really plays into the hands of Paul’s clique.
Let’s see what Paul said on the few occasions when he acknowledged the existence of the head of the world’s first church. Paul knows James as “the brother of the Lord,” (Galatians 1:19) and he mentions the “brothers of the Lord” (1 Cor 9:5) as a group as well (presumably James and Jude/Judas and Simon and Joses). Paul is the first to witness that James is the head of the Jerusalem church, indeed according to Paul, James stands first, along with Peter and John as a “pillar” of the movement (Gal 2:9, 12). Paul’s evidence here is invaluable since the author of the book of Acts only begrudgingly and obliquely acknowledges the leadership of James over the entire Jesus movement. Acts is our only early account of the history of early Christianity, and its prominent place in the N.T. following the 4 gospels ensured its dominance. The author (“Luke”) surely knew, but was not willing to state, that James took over leadership of the movement after Jesus’ death.
Ten endorsements of James
If we accept the sayings of Jesus collected together by Thomas, then we find that Jesus gave James his whole-hearted support:
“The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?”
Jesus said to them, “No matter where you are, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.” (Gospel of Thomas 12:1-2)
Now that’s an endorsement and a half!
Other citations of James
1/ The first time James is ever mentioned by name in Luke-Acts is when he is mysteriously presented as the undisputed leader at the Jerusalem council of year 50, C.E. – 20 years after the death of Jesus! In Acts 15 we read how Paul and the council discussed whether gentile converts should undergo Jewish rites such as circumcision. Suddenly, with no introduction, after everyone had spoken, James declares his “judgement” on the matter! (vv 13-21) Luke does not even identify James as Jesus’ brother. He just suddenly appears and is in charge of the entire movement, rendering a formal decision like a judge presiding in a Jewish court of law.
2/ The second and last time that James is mentioned in Luke-Acts is when Paul returns to Jerusalem in the late 50s, C.E. Acts 21:18 says that Paul went to “visit James and all the elders were present”. As Tabor puts it: “Once again it is clear that James is leader of the group and Paul knows he must account to him…. James presided over the twelve as leader of the Christian movement.”
3/ Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215 C.E.) wrote “Control of the church passed together with the apostles, to the brother of the Lord, James, whom everyone from the Lord’s time till our own has named ‘the Just’….Peter and John, after the ascension of the Saviour, ….chose James the Just as Overseer of Jerusalem.”
and “After the resurrection the Lord [Jesus] gave the tradition of knowledge to James the Just and John and Peter.”
4/ Eusebius (ca. 265-339 C.E.) wrote “Then there was James who was called the Lord’s brother; for he too was named Joseph’s son…this James whom men of old had surnamed ‘Just’ for his excellence of virtue, is recorded to have been the first elected to the episcopal throne/chair of the church in Jerusalem.”
5/ Hegesippus (early 2nd century) wrote “The succession of the church passed to James the brother of the Lord, together with the Apostles.”
6/ The Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions (recording events in year 37 C.E.) say “The church in Jerusalem that was established by our Lord was increasing in numbers being ruled uprightly and firmly by James who was made Overseer over it by our Lord.” And “believe no teacher unless he bring from Jerusalem the testimonial of James the Lord’s brother, or of whosoever may come after him.”
7/ Back to the gospel of Thomas (50:15-22) where he points out that Jesus and James were “nursed with the same milk” and Jesus kisses his brother James and says to him, “Behold I shall reveal to you everything my beloved.”
8/ Josephus the Jewish historian who lived at the time of Jesus, relates that the death of James at the hands of the Sanhedrin caused such an uproar that the high priest was removed from his post. He starts, “The Sanhedrin of judges…brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.”
9/ The Didache text (beginning of the 2nd century or earlier, i.e. contemporary with some of the later N.T. books, discovered in 1873) is a handbook for Christian converts. It is totally consistent with the tradition we know from Jesus and his brother James, and owes nothing to Paul.
I want to conclude with a quote from another American academic Jeffrey Bütz:
“What was originally the orthodox mainstream of Christianity, comprised of a messianic Jewish community centred on the teachings and leadership of Jesus’s immediate family, was, within 300 years, cast off by the Roman Catholic Church it spawned. Those who continued to hold to Christianity’s original Jewish tenets were forced underground, and what was once the mainstream became an underground stream. But, as we shall see, a tiny and seemingly insignificant underground stream, unseen and unnoticed from the surface, can sometimes carry more pure water than a far larger stream that has become stagnant and polluted and is in dire need of an infusion of fresh pure water.”
Related Zingcreed Posts:
Paul vs Jesus
Saint Paul – a few notes
Kazantzakis: When Jesus met Paul
Ebionites: the residual Hebrew Christians
Titus destroys Jerusalem
Hebrew to hellenist: how the church metamorphosed
Jesus’ communist brother James (i) his life
Jesus’ communist brother James (ii) his epistle
Jesus’ communist brother James (iii) a Cuban View
Post 501: The Acts of the Apostles and Christian origins
How Emperor Constantine corrupted Christianity
Dear Pope #6 Mary was no virgin
The Jesus movement vs the Christ movement 604
(i)Tabor, James D. “Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle transformed Christianity” Simon and Schuster (2010)
(ii) eds. Smith,D.E., Tyson, J.B. “Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report” Polebridge Press (2011)
(iii) Butz, J. “The secret legacy of Jesus: the Judaic teachings that passed from James the Just to the founding fathers” Inner Traditions press (2010?)