Dec 7, 2009

Witherington on James and the Law

"Based on what we see in Acts and in the Letter of James, we can conclude that James was no hard-line Judaizer either, though probably he believed that all Jewish-Christians should continue to keep the Mosaic covenant, especially in the Jerusalem community. Nevertheless, he says nary a word in his homily about circumcision, Sabbath ob
servance, or food laws. Were these really not the subject of some discussion in Jewish Christian churches in the Diaspora? It is hard to tell, but neither 1 John nor 1 Peter suggests that these subjects were discussed in their communities either and Paul's fulminations in Galatians and elsewhere pertain almost entirely to Gentile Christians and others who are part of his congregations. There is a great deal more that could be said about James, but one more remark must suffice. He is the one person who held together the teachings of Jesus and early Judaism and the Jewish Christian churches with one hand and at the same time extended the other hand in fellowship to Paul and his mission of salvation by faith. For this, he deserves our eternal praise and admiration."

Ben Witherington III, The Indelible Image: The Theological and Ethical Thought World of the New Testament, Volume One: The Individual Witnesses (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 281.

1 comment:

Richard Fellows said...

Thanks, Charles.

I agree with much of what Witherington says here. People often present James as a opponent of Paul, but this view is based on a misunderstanding of Gal 2:12. The best manuscripts here read "he came" instead of "they came". This means that we have the following sequence:
1. Peter visits Antioch, eats with gentiles and returns to Jerusalem.
2. Men 'from James' (=the men from Judea of Acts 15:1) arrive in Antioch and teach circumcision (but without the blessing of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:24).
3. Paul visits Jerusalem
4. Peter returns to Antioch and does not eat with Gentiles (because the men from James were still there.

This understanding of events removes the supposed conflict between James and Paul.