James and Paul by John Painter

The relationship between James and Paul was important for the development of early Christianity; it epitomized the need to preserve the movement’s Jewish roots as its membership became predominantly non-Jewish. Though it created tension, the connection with James and Jerusalem was important for Paul; his letters reflect both his theological departure from James and his acceptance of James’s and the Jerusalem community’s authority. For, unlike Paul, James had firsthand encounters with the earthly Jesus, yet Paul’s strong personal experience of the risen Lord shaped his theology and identity as an apostle to the Gentiles.

James is first identified in Mark 6:3 as one of the four brothers of Jesus. After the death of Jesus, it is likely that he was one of the brothers present at prayer with Mary and the Twelve and some other women in Jerusalem (Acts 1:12-14). In the New Testament, James is clearly leader of the Jerusalem church, and both Peter and Paul report to him. In Acts 12:7-17 Peter sends to James news of his release from prison; Paul visits James and the Jerusalem church in Acts 15 and Acts 21. He refers to James as a witness to the risen Jesus (1Cor 15:7) and notes that, when he went up to Jerusalem after his “conversion,” the only apostles he saw were Peter and James (Gal 1:18-19). Paul clearly acknowledges James as the first of the three recognized apostolic pillars of the Jerusalem church (Gal 2:1-10, especially Gal 2:9).

In Acts 15 and Acts 21, the tensions between James and Paul seem to arise from their different perspectives: James as leader of the Jerusalem church and concerned with the mission to his own people, the Jews in Judaea, and Paul as a Diaspora Jewish believer concerned with the mission to the Gentiles. The conflicting priorities that arose from their two missions are made explicit by Paul in Gal 2:1-14, especially Gal 2:11-14. Unfortunately, we have no source that gives clear expression to the views of James or Peter on this matter.

The letter of James was likely written by a diaspora Christian Jew after James’s death and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Its point of view reflects scattered Jewish followers of Jesus in in the Diaspora, not in Jerusalem. Nor does it mention Paul by name: instead, it confronts the challenge he presents—most seriously in his law-free gospel that emphasizes faith in a way that seems to ignore works, hearing, and believing without doing (Jas 1:22-25, Jas 2:14-26).

In the period following the deaths of James and Paul, their traditions seem to have developed somewhat independently of each other. This may be because Paul’s mission to the nations failed to maintain the connection with the Christian Jewish communities associated with James. The second century preserves the memory of James as the first bishop of Jerusalem, but his distinctively Jewish role was obscured because of the destruction of the Jewish Jerusalem church when the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem in 135 C.E. and Christianity was transformed into a predominantly Gentile movement. At the same time, the preserved memory of Paul obscured the sharpness of his emphases on the grace of God, the believer’s relationship to the living Christ, and the character of a living faith in which the believer entrusted his or her life to God in the community of faith and for the life of the world.

The Pseudo-Clementine writings of the late fourth century take up and develop the tensions between James and Paul. These writings appear to be based on sources and traditions derived from Christian Jews from Jerusalem who fled to Pella (a city in the Decapolis on the eastern side of the Jordan River) around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. After the suppression of the second revolt against Rome in 135 C.E., the Jewish Jerusalem church disbanded, possibly again migrating to Pella. Not surprisingly, the tradition in the Pseudo-Clementines portrays Paul as the enemy of James and Christian Judaism. Historically, however, the evidence suggests that though the relationship involved tensions, the two were not enemies.

John Painter, "James and Paul", n.p. [cited 22 Oct 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/james-and-paul

Contributors

John Painter

John Painter
Professor, Charles Sturt University

John Painter is Foundation Professor of Theology at St. Mark’s National Theological Centre, School of Theology, Charles Sturt University, Canberra Campus, Australia. His publications include John Witness and Theologian (SPCK, 1975) and The Quest for the Messiah: The History, Literature and Theology of the Johannine Community (T&T Clark and Abingdon, 1993).

Changing one's beliefs and self-identity from one religion to another.

Jews who live outside of Israel or any people living outside of their native land.

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

A program of good works—or the calling to such a program—performed by a person or organization.

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

A early collection of Christian romantic fiction that falsely claims to have been written by Pope Clement I.

Relating to thought about the nature and behavior of God.

Writing, speech, or thought about the nature and behavior of God.

Mark 6:3

3Is 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?” And they took offense at ... View more

Acts 1:12-14

Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas
12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away.13When th ... View more

Acts 12:7-17

7Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell o ... View more

Acts 15

The Council at Jerusalem
1Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of M ... View more

Acts 21

Paul's Journey to Jerusalem
1When we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patar ... View more

1Cor 15:7

7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Gal 1:18-19

18Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days;19but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's ... View more

Gal 2:1-10

Paul and the Other Apostles
1Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.2I went up in response to a revela ... View more

Gal 2:9

9and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand ... View more

Acts 15

The Council at Jerusalem
1Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of M ... View more

Acts 21

Paul's Journey to Jerusalem
1When we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patar ... View more

Gal 2:1-14

Paul and the Other Apostles
1Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.2I went up in response to a revela ... View more

Gal 2:11-14

Paul Rebukes Peter at Antioch
11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned;12for until certain people came from ... View more

Jas 1:22-25

22But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at th ... View more

Jas 2:14-26

Faith without Works Is Dead
14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?15If a brother or si ... View more

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