Christianity’s Core Curriculum

Those of us who teach at universities with professional majors but a strong Liberal Arts focus know something about how students view the ‘core curriculum’. It is core in the sense that it is what everyone is supposed to take in common, alongside their courses for their majors. But rather than being viewed as ‘core’ in the usual sense, such courses are often despised as irrelevant, and at best regarded as tangential or peripheral to their majors.

If we think about the New Testament as Christianity’s earliest “curriculum”, I wonder what would be part of the “major” and what would be “tangential”. In many forms of Christianity that are popular today, something rather unusual has happened. Not only has the whole focus come to be on some of the “fringe” texts of the New Testament, the less mainstream expressions of less common views, but everything else has been reinterpreted or ignored in light of that. It is as though a pharmacist were to approach all their chemistry and medicine courses as though they were literature classes, viewing them through the lens of a core English class and reinterpreting them as such. But assuming that the purpose of a core curriculum is to ensure breadth and diversity in education, rather than to turn a pharmacist into a philosopher, then we may ask whether the same is true of the teachings of the New Testament.

I mentioned one example in a recent post (in fact, it was in the comments section), the dominance of the language, imagery and interpretation of Jesus’ death in Hebrews, so that all of the other metaphors for atonement are reduced to or constrained by this rather unusual author’s distinctive perspective. Here are a few other examples of the same phenomenon:

What You Do Matters

The New Testament speaks almost with one voice that what one does matters, and that one will be held accountable for one’s actions. In Revelation 20:12-13, judgment by works is clear. Matthew’s parable of the sheep and the goats communicates the same message, as does the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount (radically reinterpreted in children’s songs to refer to building one’s life on the Lord Jesus Christ, rather than putting his teachings into practice). Even Jude’s little postcard (vv14-16) gives the same impression – so it is there at the margins too, although who knows whether Jude represents a typical or atypical early Christian viewpoint?

At any rate, if Paul’s message about salvation “apart from the works of the Law” is rightly understood by traditional Protestant lines of interpretation, then this still leaves Paul as one divergent voice on a subject on which there is otherwise general agreement. Of course, I think that there are other ways of interpreting Paul that can make better sense of what he wrote, and do justice to passages like Romans 2:6-16, where Paul seems to express agreement with the rest of the New Testament authors, saying in v6 that God “will give to each one according to what he has done” (which is in fact a quotation, showing that Paul and early Christians in general accepted this Jewish teaching expressed in places like Psalm 62:12 and Proverbs 24:12).

But if Paul is rightly understood in the Lutheran tradition, then that does not mean either that we should ignore his voice as marginal, nor allow it to completely dominate the discussion. The important thing to learn here is a principal that is much more widely applicable: make sure you don’t mistake what the majority is saying, just because a minority is particularly vocal.

Paul, of course, is not alone, even if he is in the minority. The Gospel of John also has an unusual perspective on judgment. Probably in response to the “delay of the Parousia” (i.e. the fact that the “second coming” of Jesus did not occur as quickly as the earliest Christians had expected), the author of John brought many things that were expected at the end of history into the present. Rather than awaiting judgment and eternal life, these are made present realities, based on how one has responded to Jesus. Once again, we have a marginal viewpoint, in this case a reinterpretation of the earlier Christian viewpoint in light of new circumstances. But once we realize what the Gospel of John was doing in this instance, we need to ask whether the appropriate response is to allow John’s reinterpretation to dominate, or to follow John’s example by reinterpreting earlier traditions ourselves in light of all that has been learned and experienced by Christians in the intervening centuries.

Incarnation

There is no sense in which the incarnation can be viewed as a central teaching of the New Testament. If Paul uses the language of pre-existence at all, it is in passages that are poetic (and thus most likely metaphorical) in character. Philippians 2:6-11 and (if it is from Paul) Colossians 1:15-20. But it is noteworthy that Paul never speaks about Jesus in prose as though he pre-existed – indeed, he says things like the ‘spiritual’ Adam comes after the ‘natural’ (1 Corinthians 15:46). The language of Philippians 2 is most likely focused on comparing Jesus to Adam, and on Jesus being exalted to a status he did not have before, even to the point of being given the divine name.

The Gospel of John is unique among the Gospels in expressing such ideas, and is probably unique in the whole New Testament in applying such language to Jesus in a more literal fashion. In my book John’s Apologetic Christology I explain some of the reasons I think the author made these developments, so I won’t repeat those points here. In the present context, my point is that John is somewhat tangential (as he is on the subject of judgment). Here too, certain strands of Christianity take this marginal voice within the Bible as the Biblical voice.

In fact, the situation is even more complex. I recently responded to a book that contrasted “Jesusanity” with the “Biblical Christ”. But the incarnational Christmas story as usually told is in fact a story of the “canonical Christ” that exists only in the combination of the Gospels, and is not in any one of them. The Gospel of John, taken on its own or with the Johannine Epistles, seems to depict the incarnation as occurring when Jesus was baptized. The reference in the prologue to the Baptist’s activity before and after the incarnation (John 1:14), focuses on the Spirit descending on Jesus and remaining on him (John 1:33; Word and Spirit were not clearly distinguished in the Judaism of this period, or even in the earliest second century post-NT Christian writings), and the reference in 1 John 5:6 to Christ coming not only by water but also by blood (countering the view evidenced in other sources that the heavenly Christ came upon Jesus at his baptism but departed before the crucifixion).

It is only by lumping Matthew and Luke’s focus on the infancy with John’s incarnational emphasis that one ends up with the idea that the decisive moment in the incarnation was Jesus’ birth. In other words, the Christmas story that will be told in the vast majority of Churches this year is not Biblical in the sense that it tells a story that is in the Bible, but canonical because it tells a story that is concocted by combining details that are in various parts of the New Testament to create a story different from that which any individual author tells.

Universality

The New Testament is pretty consistent in recognizing that those outside of the “chosen people” can often evidence more faith than the people of God. In addition to Paul’s reference in Romans 2 to those Gentiles who do “by nature” what the Law requires, there is also the reference in John 1 to the Word as the Light that gives light to every human being, and Peter’s acknowledgment that God “accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:35). And let’s not forget Jesus’ pronouncement that he had not found such faith in all Israel as he found evidenced by certain Gentiles, whom he praises and sends away without instructing them in the Jewish Law or giving them a tract with four things God wants them to know.

In all these instances, there are forms of Christianity that allow a fringe voice in the Bible to drown out what the majority of texts are saying. The same is of course true when Christians focus on homosexuality and ignore issues of social justice. The question, ultimately, is whether what it means to be a Christian is determined by the majority’s emphases or by those who speak the loudest, an issue that does not only relate to Biblical interpretation, but also to the fringe and extreme voices that are often perceived as speaking for Christianity today (even though such voices really do not deserve to be in the same category with Paul and John).

This post arose in connection with a response to a book that opposed the “Biblical Christ” to the “Jesusanity” of popular culture. In fact, the historical Jesus was perhaps first known in first-century Galilean popular culture, which we have no access to (I’ve recently begun reading Christian Origins: A People’s History Of Christianity, Vol. 1, edited by Richard Horsley, which includes some problematic statements, but nevertheless rightly points out that we cannot discover the view of the majority of Jews or Christians in the first century by reading the texts written by the literate elite). We have no way of knowing for sure whether the voices we hear in the literature of the New Testament do not co-opt Jesus to line up more with certain understandings of Jewish “orthodoxy” than he really did, just as later Gnostics made his teachings line up with their distinctive intellectual perspective. Jesus bypassed the cities and academies and addressed illiterate peasants. It is this fact that causes the historian such difficulty – Jesus did not focus on leaving a record for posterity that the literate could access. Christianity has presumably always been for most people something other than what theologians and intellectuals (whether “liberal” or “conservative” have said it should be). If any scholars are making an impact on popular culture – and certainly Bock and Wallace do that in popular conservative Evangelical culture as much as Borg and Crossan do in popular mainline and liberal Christian culture), both are probably examples of how different our own situation is today to that of the earliest Christians.

In conclusion, it seems our two main options are to focus on the historical Jesus as our key source, or to focus on the Church’s teachings. To take the Church’s Bible, with the canon determined by its reflection and use, and ultimately approved by its authoritative decisions, and treat that canon as authoritative but the church as not, is intrinsically incoherent. The pure “Biblical” option that Bock and Wallace offer simply isn’t a real option, because the Bible did not drop down from heaven in a package (and when its separate parts were collected it was into a box labelled “some assembly required”). One can accept the Bible, and the traditions and authority of the Church that are responsible for its collection, and if one does so, I hope that this decision will not exclude the use of one’s own rational faculties. Or one can take a primarily critical historical approach, and accept that ultimately it is us who decide what to emphasize in the Bible’s diverse statements, and how to interpret and apply them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16977985447972987579 Frank McCoy

    You comment, “The Gospel of John is unique among the Gospels in expressing such ideas, and is probably unique in the whole New Testament in applying such language to Jesus in a more literal fashion.”Rather, I suggest, the idea of the pre-existence of Jesus, on the basis that he had been the Logos incarnate on earth, is not just present in John, but in James as well. Here, in an epistle which I think was written by James, the brother of Jesus, we appear to have a doctrine of the Logos as a Law and as a divine being, with Jesus having been this Logos as a divine being.Since I am layman, I realize the need to try to justify such a suggestion through evidence, since I cannot speak from authority . So, here goes: Let us begin with James 1:22-25, “(22) But be doers of the Logos and not only hearers, deceiving yourselves. (23) Because if anyone is a hearer of the Logos and not a doer, this one is like a man observing his face of genesis (proswpon tes genesews) in a mirror. (24) He observed himself and has gone away and immediately forgot what he was like. (25) But the one, having looked into the perfect Law, the one of freedom (eleutherias), and having remained, not having become a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in his doing.” Note that, in 1:23, we have the obscure phrase “face of genesis (proswpon tes genesews)”. I suggest that, in this phrase, “face” is not to be taken literally. Rather, it should be interpreted to be a being’s true self. For example, in Flight and Finding (165) Philo states:“What is behind Me thou shall not see, but My face thou shall by no means see” (Exod. xxxiii, 23). For it amply suffices the wise man to come to a knowledge of all that follows on after God and in His wake, but the man that wishes to set his gaze upon the Supreme Essence, before he sees Him will be blinded by the rays that beam forth all around Him.”Again, in II Cor. 4:6, Paul speaks of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. Here, he is not talking about the literal face of Jesus Christ. Rather, he is referring to the real self of Jesus Christ, which, like the real self of God, is surrounded by the blinding rays that are the glory of God.In James, the real self of a person is the soul—which he also calls the spirit. So, in James 1:23, the phrase, “face of genesis”, means, “the soul/spirit in the pristine and unmarred state it had at its genesis.”To a large extent, James 1:23-24 appears to reflect the influence of Therapeutic thought as thusly outlined by Philo in the Contemplative Life (78):For to these people (i.e., the Therapeutae) the whole law book seems to resemble a living creature with the literal ordinances for its body and for its soul the invisible mind (noun) laid up in its wording. It is in this mind especially that the rational soul begins to contemplate the things akin to itself and looking through the words as through a mirror beholds the marvelous beauties of the concepts, unfolds and removes the symbolic coverings and brings forth the thoughts and sets them bare to the light of day for those who need but a little reminding to enable them to discern the inward and hidden though the outward and visible.So, according to the Therapeutae, the literal ordinances of the law book are like its body and its inner meaning is like its soul. Further, this soul of the law book is an invisible mind. This invisible mind is so like a human soul that looking through the literal ordinances to perceive its concepts and thoughts is like looking into a mirror. Since, therefore, these concepts and thoughts are also found in a human soul, to uncover them is, in effect, a process of recollection.Because a human soul is so similar to this invisible mind that to perceive it is, in effect, to see oneself, this invisible mind is the Logos—the Image of God, of which each human soul is a copy. See On Noah’s Work as a Planter (19-20), where Philo states, “Accordingly we also read that man has been made after the image of God (Gen. 1:27), not however after the image of anything created. It follows, then, as a natural consequence of man’s soul having been made after the Image of the Archetype, the Logos of the First Cause….”So, in Therapeutic thought, the law book is like an organism, with the literal ordinances for its body and, with its inner meaning, which is the Logos, the Image of God, of which a human soul is a copy, for its soul. So, for one to look through the literal ordinances of the law book to perceive this Logos and its thoughts and concepts is like looking at one’s soul in a mirror.This directly relates to James 1:23-24, “(23) Because if anyone is a hearer of the Logos and not a doer, this one is like a man observing his face of genesis (i.e., his soul as it was at its genesis) in a mirror. (24) He observed himself and has gone away and immediately forgot what he was like.”As a result, the full line of thought in James 1:23-24 is this, “Because if anyone is a hearer of the Logos and not a doer, this is like a man who looks through the literal ordinances of the law book to see the Logos and then, turning away, forgets what he has seen. That is to say, since to look through the literal ordinances of the law book to see the Logos is, in effect, to see one’s soul in its pristine form in a mirror, if anyone is a hearer of the Logos and does not do it, this is like a man who looks at his soul in its pristine state in a mirror and, turning away, forgets what he has seen.”This also directly relates to James 1:25, “But the one, having looked into the perfect Law, the one of freedom (eleutherias), and having remained, not having become a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in his doing.”As a result, James 1:25 is to be thusly understood, “But the one, having looked through the literal ordinances of the law book to see the Logos, the perfect Law, the one of freedom, and having retained his gaze on it so that he does not forget what he has seen, he is like one who hears the Logos and then is blessed by acting in accordance with this perfect Law, the one bringing freedom.”Note that, here, the Logos is assumed to be the perfect Law, the one bringing freedom.Philo does not attribute this concept of the Logos being the perfect Law, the one bringing freedom, to the Therapeutae. However, he endorsed this concept himself–See Every Good Man is Free (46-47), where he states, “And the right Logos is an infallible Law engraved not by this mortal or that and, therefore, soulless as they, but by immortal nature on the immortal mind, never to perish. So one may well wonder at the short-sightedness of those who…deny that the right Logos, which is the fountainhead of all other law, can impart freedom (eleutherias) to the wise, who obey all that it prescribes or forbids.” So, in developing his concept of the Logos, it appears, James drew not just on Therapeutic thought, but on Philonic thought as well. In particular, in his characterizing the Logos as being the perfect Law, the one imparting freedom, appears to have come from a Philonic influence on him.In any event, a key point is that, James understood, there are two laws. First, there is the Law of Moses, whose ordinances constitute the “body” of the law book. Second, there is the Logos as the perfect Law, the one giving freedom, which is the inner meaning of the law book and constitutes the “soul” of the law book. In 1:23-25, then, he is not discussing the doing of the Law of Moses but, rather, the doing of the Logos as the perfect Law. Further, by stating that this second law is “perfect”, he implies that it is superior to the Law of Moses.Next, let us look at James 1:21, “Therefore, having put away all filthiness and remains of wickedness, in meekness receive the implanted Logos, being able to saving your souls.”Compare On Dreams II (223), where Philo declares, “The highest Law and Logos that is, which rules existent things…shall be firmly planted with the dikaiou (just/righteous) soul as its pedestal.” Here, the Logos is not only said to be the highest Law and that which rules existent things but to also be that which is planted in a just/righteous soul.Note that, in James 1:21, the Logos is characterized as “being able to saving (dynamenon swsai) your souls.”Compare 4:12, “One is the Lawgiver and Judge—the one being able to save (dynamenos swsai) and to destroy.The implication: the Logos is the Judge—the one being able to save (dynamenos swsai) and to destroy. Further, beyond that, he is the Lawgiver.That the Logos is a Judge is in accord with Philonic thought:1. In Exodus (Book II, 13) Philo states that “of necessity was the Logos appointed as judge and mediator2. In On Dreams II (85-86), Philo states, ‘It is of the divine Logos that it is said, ‘The sun went forth upon the earth, and Lot entered into Zoar, and the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire’ (Gen. xix. 23f.). For the Logos of God, when it arrives at our earthly composition, in the case of those who are akin to Virtue, and turn away to her, gives help and succor, thus affording them a refuge and perfect safety, but sends upon her adversaries irreparable ruin.” Here, the Logos is said to be the Sun and Lord of Genesis 19:23f. and to be, as such, a Judge—one able to save and to destroy.Compare James 5:7-10, “(7) Therefore, be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold! The farmer awaits the precious fruit of the earth, being patient for it until it receives early and later rain. Be patient. (8) Also, you, establish your hearts because the coming of the Lord has drawn near. (9) Do not murmur, brethren, against one another lest you be judged. Behold! The Judge before the doors has stood (esteken). (10) Take, brothers, as an example of suffering evil and of patience, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”Here, I suggest, the subject is the Logos: the Lord who is Judge—the one being able to save and destroy. As he went forth upon the earth long ago, going door to door while judging the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, so the time has drawn near for him to return to judge us in a similar fashion.That this Lord is the Logos is further indicated by 5:10: where, it is said, the prophets spoke in the name of this Lord—for the Logos speaks through the prophets, e.g. see Who is the Heir (259), where Philo states, “Now with every good man it is the holy Logos which assures him of his gift of prophecy. For a prophet (being a spokesman) has no utterance of his own, but all his utterance came from elsewhere, the echoes of another’s voice.”In James 5:7-10, the Logos, as the Lord who is Judge, appears to be identified with Jesus because the word used to describe the coming of this Lord who is Judge is Parousia—a word associated with Jesus, but, as far as I am aware, neither with God nor with the Logos. (Note: In The Pre-existent Son (p. 42, footnote 70), Simon J. Gathecole indicates a willingness to at least entertain the possibility that the pre-existence of Jesus is assumed in James 5:10).In any event, that the Logos is a Lawgiver is also in accord with Philonic thought. For example, in the Migration of Abraham (23), Philo speaks of “Moses, the Lawgiving Logos”—the apparent idea being that the Logos is another Moses in the sense that he, like Moses gives a Law. What is the Law that is given by the Logos? While the author of James does not give us an explicit answer, he clearly understood it to be what he calls the perfect Law, the one giving freedom. That is to say, he clearly understood it to be this Logos as a Law. So, while Moses as a Lawgiver gives us the Law of Moses, the Logos as a Lawgiver gives us himself as a Law.Further, the author of James understood, the Logos, as Judge, judges us by himself as the perfect Law, the one bringing us freedom. See, for example, James 2:12, “So speak and so do as through the Law of Freedom being about to be judged.”As a result, the position of the author of James is that the Logos is Lawgiver and Judge. Further, Jesus is this Logos. Even further, the Law he gives is himself as the perfect Law, the one giving freedom. Finally, he judges us by this Law. So, for one to be saved, one must speak and act in conformity with this Law.In closing, I suggest that, in James 2:1b, “Our Lord, Jesus Christ–of glory”, the glory of Jesus as Lord is the glory of the pre-existent Logos–compare John 17:5, “So, now Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11380591042937286155 Talon

    Brilliant post, Mr. McGrath.One really has to work hard to find pre-existence in James. It is fairly clear IMO that James was opposed to Paul, and almost certainly he saw his brother as a human being who was a prophet in the apocalyptic sense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16977985447972987579 Frank McCoy

    Dear Talon:While it is hard work to find a doctrine of pre-existence of Jesus in James, I think it can be done and, possibly, is done in my first post.Also, while I agree that it was not all harmony and light between Paul and James (or between Peter and James for that matter–we are dealing with three people with very big egos), I submit to you that they were in essential agreement as respects faith and works.This is a radical position and it is based on the argument, made above, that the perfect Law, the Law of freedom, in James is not the Law of Moses but the Logos as a Law. It is also based on the argument that James was faimiliar with the Migration of Abraham (127-132), where Philo discusses Genesis 12:4, “Abraham journeyed even as the Lord spoke to him.”In this post, I will first outline the argument that James was familiar with Mig 127-32. Then, I will turn to Galatians to argue that, in this epistle, Paul basically agrees with James on the issue of faith of works.Here is what Philo states in the beginning of Mig 127-32:For ‘he (i.e., Abraham) journeyed just as the Lord spoke to him’: the meaning of this is that as God speaks—and He speaks with consummate beauty and excellence—so the good man does everything blamelessly keeping straight the path of life, so that the works (erga) of the wise man are nothing else than the logoi of God. So, in another place He says, ‘Abraham did all My law’ (Gen. xxvi. 5): ‘Law’ being evidently nothing else than the Divine Logos enjoining what we ought to do and forbidding what we should not do, as Moses testifies by saying, ‘he received a law from His logoi’ (Deut. xxiii. 3 f.). If, then, the law is a Divine Logos, and the man of true worth ‘does (poiei)’ the law, he assuredly ‘does (poiei) the Logos: so that, as I said, God’s logoi are the wise man’s ‘doings.’”So, according to Philo, when Abraham heard the Logos as a Law, he was a doer of works in accord with it. Further, anyone who is a good man, a man of true worth, will, upon hearing the Logos as a Law, also be a doer of works in accord with it.Compare James 1:25:But the one, having looked into the perfect Law, the one of freedom (eleutherias), and having remained, not having become a forgetful hearer, but a doer (poietes) of the work (ergou), this one will be blessed in his doing (poiesei).Here, we have the same basic position: with it declared that a person who not only hears the perfect Law (i.e., the Logos as a Law), but does works in accord with it will be blessed.Now, in the Migration of Abraham, Philo thusly continues his discussion on Genesis 12:4:To follow God is, then, according to Moses, that most holy man, our aim and object, as he says elsewhere too, ‘thou shall go in the steps of the Lord thy God (Deut. Xiii. 4). He is not speaking of movement by use of our legs, for, while earth carries man, I do not know whether even the whole universe carries God; but is evidently employing figurative language to bring out how the soul should comply with those Divine ordinances, the guiding principle of which is the honoring of Him to whom all things owe their being. Here, we learn, in Philonic thought, the Logos as a Law consists of a number of Divine ordinances and has a guiding principle—which is the honoring of God.Compare James 2:8-13 “(8) If, indeed, the Royal/Kingly (basilikon) Law you perform according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’, you do well. (9) But if you show partiality, you commit sin, being exposed by the Law as transgressors. (10) For whoever keeps all the Law, but stumbles in one, he has become guilty of all. (11) For the One having said, ‘Do not commit adultery’, also said, ‘Do not murder’. Now, if you do not commit adultery, but you murder, you have become a transgressor of the Law. (12) So speak and so do as by the Law of Freedom about to be judged. (13) For the judgment will be merciless to the one not having mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”Here, the Law of Freedom (i.e., the perfect Law, the one of freedom, mentioned in 1:25 and which is the Logos as a Law) is also called the Royal/Kingly Law. Why is the Logos as a Law called the Royal/Kingly Law here?Well, in On Dreams II (223) Philo speaks of “the highest law and Logos that is, which rules (basews) existent things.” Since the Logos as a Law rules (basews), this Logos, as a Law, is the Royal/Kingly (basilikon) LawWe learn that, as in Philonic thought, this Logos as a Law, in Jacobian thought, has a number of Divine ordinances. Some of its Divine ordinances also appear in the Law of Moses (e.g., do not commit adultery and do not murder) and some of them do not (e.g., be merciful to others and do not be partial).Further, as in Philonic thought, the Logos as a Law, in Jacobian thought, has a guiding principle.However, unlike Philo, the author of James understood that the guiding principle of the Logos as a Law is to love one’s neighbor as oneself rather than to honor God.Now, in the Migration of Abraham, Philo thusly continues his discussion of Genesis 12:4:Using still loftier language to express the irrepressible craving for moral excellence, he calls on them to cleave to Him. His words are: ‘Thou shall fear the Lord thy God, and Him shall thou serve, and to Him shall thou cleave’ (Deut. x. 20). What then is the cementing substance? Do you ask, what? Piety, surely, and faith (pistis): for these virtues adjust and unite the intent of the heart to the incorruptible Being: as Abraham when he believed (pisteusas) is said to ‘come near to God’ (Gen. xviii. 23).Here, we learn, while Abraham, upon hearing the Logos as the Law, did works in accord with it, he was cleaving to God—the cementing substance being piety and faith (pistis). Of these two, faith (pistis) has the fuller focus of Philo, who stresses that Abraham believed (pisteusas). So, in essence, according to Philo, the reason why Abraham, upon hearing the Logos as the Law, did works in accord with it is that he had piety and, above all, faith.Compare James 2:21-24, “Abraham, our father, was he not justified from works, having offered up Isaac, his son, upon the altar? You see that faith (pistis) was working with his works and from the works the faith (pistis) was made complete, and was fulfilled the scripture saying, ‘And Abraham believed (episteusen) God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’, and he was called a friend of God. You see that a man is justified from works and not faith (pistews) alone.”Here, it is argued, the faith of Abraham was fulfilled in works. Further, these cannot be works in accord with the Law of Moses—for it had not yet been given. Rather, they must works in accord with Logos as a Law, i.e., the perfect Law, the one of freedom, mentioned in James 1:25.So, it appears, the author of James, like Philo, thought that the faith of Abraham was completed by works in accord with the Logos as the Law.Indeed, in support of this, there is another important parallelism between James 2:21-24 and Philonic thought.That is to say, in James 2:21-24, Gen 15:6 is linked to two things:1. Abraham’s offering up of his son on an altar2. Abraham being called a friend of GodSimilarly, in Philonic thought, both Abraham’s offering up of his son on an altar and Abraham being called a friend to God are linked to Gen 15:6.1. On Philo’s linking of Abraham’s placing of his son on an altar with Gen 15:6, see the Unchangeableness of God (4). Here, allegorically interpreting his placing of his son an an altar Philo states, “He brings to God the dearly loved, the only trueborn offsping of the soul, that clearest image of self-learned wisdom named Isaac, and without a murmur renders, as is duty bound, as the law tells us, the feet of the new strange victim (Gen. xxii. 9), either because once having received God’s inspiration he judged it right to tread no more on aught that was mortal, or it may be that he was taught to see how changeable and inconstant was creation, through his knowledge of the unwavering steadfastness that belongs to the Existent, for in this we are told he had put his trust (Gen. xv. 6).”2. On Philo’s linking of Abraham being called a friend of God with Gen. 15:6, see On Abraham (262, 273), “There is another record of praise attested by words from Moses’ prophetic lips. In these, it is stated that he ‘trusted in God’…That God marvelling at Abraham’s faith in Him repaid him with faithfulness by confirming with an oath the gifts he had promised, and here He no longer talked with him as God with man but as a friend with a familiar.”It would appear, then, that James 2:21-24 is, to a large extent, based on Philonic thought.To summarize, Philo’s discussion on Genesis 12:4 in the Migration of Abraham appears to have had a major influence on James 1:23-25, 2:9-13 and 2:21-24. This led the author of James to stress the need to complete the hearing of this Law with the doing of works in accord with it and to stress the need to complete one’s faith with works in accord with it. It also had a major impact on his interpretation of Abraham’s offering of Isaac.However, while Philo states in the Migration of Abraham that the guiding principle of the Logos as a Law is the honoring of God, the author of James thought that this guiding principle is rendered in the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself.Now, turning our attention to Paul, it is noteworthy that he espoused a doctrine that one is saved by faith rather than by works of law. For example, in Galatians 2:15-16, he tells us that he said this to Cephas:We are Jews by nature and not of the Gentile sinners, knowing that a man is not justified by works of law, but through faith of Jesus Christ. And we in Christ Jesus believed that we might be justified by faith of Jesus Christ and not be works of law—that by works of law will not all flesh be justified.As a result, the question arises as to whether James’ doctrine that a faith without works is dead is directed against this Pauline doctrine that one is saved by faith rather than by works of Law.I do not think that this is the case.In the first place, Paul’s position does not appear to be contrary to the position of James. The law that Paul had in mind when formulating his doctrine that one is justified by faith rather than by works of law is the Law of Moses. As a result, his full position is that one is justified by faith rather than by works of the Law of Moses.On the other hand, the law James had in mind when formulating his doctrine that a salvific faith is completed by works is the Logos as the Law—the perfect Law, the one of freedom. As a result, his full position is that a salvific faith will be completed by works of the Logos as a Law.In the second place, in Galatians, Paul appears to affirm the position of James.Let us begin with Galatians 5:6, where Paul states:For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any force, but faith working through love.Here, Paul adds the important qualifier that a faith with force is a faith completed by works of love.This is reminiscent of James’ position, in which the Logos as a Law can be summarized in the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself—meaning that his doctrine that a salvific faith is completed by works of the Logos as a Law is, in effect, a doctrine that a salvific faith is completed by works of love.Shortly thereafter, Paul states in Galatians 5:13-14:For, brothers, you were called for freedom (eleutherias). Only, do not use the freedom for a pretext for the flesh but through love serve one another as slaves. For the entire Law has been summed up in one logos, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”Here, I suggest, Paul means, by “the entire Law” the Logos as a Law rather than the Law of Moses:1. This Law, as with the Logos as a Law in James, is summed up in the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.2. This Law, as with the Logos as a Law in James, is a Law bringing one freedom (eleutherias)3. It is possible that Paul is making a pun in calling the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself a logos. If he is, then the Law he refers to here is the Logos as a Law—with the pun being that this Law, which is the Logos (Word), can be summarized in a logos (word).Indeed, in support of this suggestion that the Law of Galatians 5:13-4 is the Logos as a Law, the next time that Paul mentions a law is in Galatians 6:2, where he states:Bear one another’s burdens and thus you will fulfill the Law of Christ.This law, which Paul calls “the Law of Christ”, cannot be the Law of Moses.For example, in I Corinthians 9:20-21, Paul carefully differentiates between a law that in the context must be the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ, stating:And I became as a Jew to the Jews, in order to win Jews (and) to one under law that I might gain the ones under law (and) without law to the ones without law—not being without God’s law but within Christ’s Law.Further, since this Law of Christ is fulfilled by bearing one another’s burdens, it must be the Law, of Galatians 5:13-14, which is summed up in the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.Therefore, the Law of Galatians 5:13-14 appears to not be the Law of Moses. Rather, it appears to be what James calls the Logos as a Law—the perfect Law summarized in the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Paul, though, prefers to refer to it as the Law of Christ—presumably because, as we have seen, James understood that Jesus gives us this Law.So, Talon, my judgment is that Paul and James were not in conflict on the question of faith and works. Both agreed that one is not saved by works of the Law of Moses. Both agreed that a salvific faith is completed by works in accord with another Law (i.e., the Logos as a Law/ the Law of Christ)—a law that brings one freedom and that is summarized in the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    Frank:Great theory . . .except for one teeny tiny thing . . Namely:No serious scholar (except for some evangelical apologists) would seriously suggest that the epistle of James goes back to THE James. It is widely regarded as an eponymous work.This is not merely a modern opinion, by the way; Jerome (in 381–394 C.E. in his “De Viris”) discusses some books that are “disputed among the elders.” Among these, as you might have already guessed, is the Epistle of James.The fact that Jerome, notorious for his intolerance of heresy and of judaizing, does not raise a ruckus about the dispute either way—he just mentions it casually and says that certain books are accepted just because they are very old—shows that it was perfectly okay, at the time of Jerome’s writing, to doubt the authorship of some of the canonical books. It seems that some of the clergy did in fact doubt. And this after the canon was already decided and set in stone.This has always fascinated me.The point:If James is an eponymous work—which is highly probable—then all of that typing about the “opinions of James” is but a conjectural cul de sac.Ever see a dust-devil while driving through the desert?They look like tornados, but they’re not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16977985447972987579 Frank McCoy

    Dear Quixie:The bottom line is that, judging by the earliest information on James, which comes from Paul (Saul) and dates to the mid-fifties CE, James is a genuine work of James, the brother of Jesus.For the earliest info we have on James, three passages from Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians are particularly important:1. 1:18-19, “Then, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas, and I stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see (any) other of the Apostles except James the brother of our Lord.” The time of this trip to Jerusalem is uncertain, but perhaps was in the late 30s. Cephas is probably Simon Peter[1]—who had been Jesus’ chief disciple. Here, we learn, James was an Apostle. Further, it appears, he had been residing in Jerusalem.2. 2:8-10, “And, realizing that grace had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, the ones seeming to be pillars, gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas—that we for the Gentiles, but they for the Circumcision—only the poor we should remember, this very thing which I also was eager to do.” Here, we learn, James was the first of three “Pillars” of the Jesus Assembly in Jerusalem—the other two being Cephas (i.e., Simon Peter) and a person named John. Since Paul lists James first, it is reasonable to infer that James had probably been the head of the Jesus Assembly in Jerusalem, with both Simon Peter and John being his subordinates.3. But when Cephas came to Antioch, I stood against him to his face because he had been condemned. For, before certain ones came from James, he was eating with Gentiles. But, when they came, he was drawing back and separating himself, fearing the ones of the Circumcision. And the rest of the Jews joined in pretense with him, so that also Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.” Here, Paul is upset because, after messengers came from James, the Jewish followers of Jesus at Antioch, even Cephas and Barnabas, stopped eating with Gentiles. This all but confirms that James had been the head of the Jesus Assembly in Jerusalem—ahead of even Cephas, i.e., Simon Peter.Paul’s portrait of James in Galatians, then, is that of a man who was residing in Jerusalem, who was an Apostle, and who was the leader of the Jesus Assembly in Jerusalem.Another passage where Paul mentions James, the brother of Jesus, is I Cor 15:3-9, “For I handed on to you, among the first things, that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures and that he was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve. Afterwards, he was seen by over 500 brethren at one time—of whom the majority remain until now, but some fell asleep. Afterwards, he was seen by James, then by all the Apostles. And, last of all, even as if to one untimely born, he was also seen by me. For I am the least of the Apostles, who is not qualified to be an Apostle, because I persecuted the Assembly of God.”Here, Paul lists those who, he understood, had seen the risen Jesus.Note that, Paul states, there were three people to whom the risen Jesus had individually appeared: (1) Cephas, (2) James, and (3) himself.From the three passages in Galatians, we know that Cephas is probably Simon Peter and that the person named James is probably James, the brother of Jesus.As a result, what Paul is apparently claiming in this passage is that he belongs to a very select group of three—the other two being Cephas (i.e., Simon Peter) and James the brother of Jesus. Note that Paul uses the phraseology, “he was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve.” Since Cephas (i.e., Simon Peter) was the head of the Twelve, what he, in essence, states here is that first he appeared to Cephas, the head of the Twelve, then to all of the Twelve.This directly relates to Paul’s use of this phraseology, “He was seen by James, then by all the Apostles.”As a result, what Paul, in essence, states here is that first he appeared to James, the head of the Apostles, then to all of the Apostles.As a result, it is the third time (the other two times being in Galatians) where, Paul implies, James had been the head of the Jesus group in Jerusalem—ahead of all other Apostles there, even Simon Peter.Now, let us turn to the question of whether James the brother of Jesus wrote James, beginning with the opening to James in 1:1, “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Diaspora, grace.”This is what one might expect James, as described by Paul, to write.First of all, as we have seen, Paul implies that James had been the leader of the Jesus movement.Similarly, it appears that the author of this passage had been the leader of the Jesus movement.Although James (Jacob) was a common name, this James does not identify himself outside of being a follower of God and Jesus. This is an indication that he is the James. That is to say, this is an indication that he is James the brother of Jesus—for he was the head of the Jesus Assembly in Jerusalem.It can be objected that, if the author of James were James the brother of Jesus, then we would expect him to call himself a brother of Jesus.However, the author of James apparently did not put much stock in bodily relationships. It is stated that the soul can be saved (1:21, 5:20), but it is nowhere stated that the body can be saved. It is emphasized that a body without the spirit is dead.(2:26). God jealously yearns for one’s spirit (4:5), but it is nowhere stated that God jealously yearns for one’s body. There is no mention of bodily resurrection—not even in the case of Jesus. Although James is a short epistle, this is still noteworthy. With this evident downgrading of the body in relation to the soul/spirit, it would appear that the author put more emphasis on soul/spiritual relationships than on bodily relationships. Indeed, when “brothers” and “sisters” are mentioned in this epistle, they refer to fellow believers, soul mates and spiritual kin so to speak, rather than to brothers and sisters in a bodily sense.Also, one would expect a forger to explicitly make the claim to being a brother of Jesus. So, IMO, that the author of James does not explicitly make such a claim is an indication that it is genuine.Again, according to Paul, the three pillars (including James) agreed to preach to the Circumcision (i.e., Jews and, possibly, Samaritans), leaving the Gentiles to himself and to Barnabas.Similarly, in 1:1, the author of James limits the intended recipients of his epistle to “the twelve tribes”, i.e., Jews and, possibly, Samaritans.Too, as we have seen, Paul relates how James sent a message to the Jewish followers of Jesus in Antioch. As a result, we know, James, the brother of Jesus, did sometimes send messages to Jewish followers of Jesus outside of Palestine.Similarly, here, the author of James addresses “the twelve tribes in the Diaspora” (i.e., outside of Palestine).In addition, in James 3:6b, we find the striking phrase, “Being set on fire by Gehenna.” Gehenna is a locale in the Jerusalem area also called the Valley of Hinnom. That this Jerusalem area locale is used as the name for Hell, rather than a more generic term like “Hades”, is a strong indicator that the author of James resided in the Jerusalem area.Paul, as we have seen, indicates that James had resided in the Jerusalem area.Finally, in James, there is the championing of the poor. This is exactly what one would expect James the brother of Jesus to do. After all, as we have seen, Paul claimed that the three pillars (led by James) had given him only one firm order—to remember the poor.The bottom line: The author of James so closely matches our earliest information on James, the brother of Jesus, given to us by Paul in the mid-fifties that, it appears, it is most likely a genuine work of James the brother of Jesus.Quixie, I would like to pose to you one final thought. In the Jesus Dynasty (p. 275), James D. Tabor states, “What is amazing is that the letter of James, short as it is, conatins no fewer than *thirty* direct references, echoes, and allusions to the teachings of Jesus in the Q source!” However, I don’t believe in Q, so why are there these thirty relationships between (on the one hand) James and (on the other hand) Matthew and Luke? I suggest that Matthew not only used Mark as a source, but Thomas AND JAMES as well–with Matthew, thinking that what James wrote in James accurately reflects the thought of his brother, feeling free to attribute some of what James states in James to Jesus in his gospel and with Luke then using Matthew as one of his sources.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    Frank:I must say, first of all, that I enjoyed reading the last paragraph of your most recent comment. Of the many farfetched and ad hoc theories that I’ve encountered in my reading over the years, yours is a very creative and imaginative one. An interesting proposition; “Matthew used Mark AND James AND Thomas!!”. Honestly, This is good. I’m going to ruminate on this one.I’ll return to that in a bit, though; let me first address the main isue here as I see it . . . .You claim to offer no less than three references to refute my assertion that James is an eponymous work, yet none of the three references is even remotely related to the topic at hand. All three deal with proving that James had a position of authority in the group that grew in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death. Or proving that James resided in Jerusalem. I don’t dispute these at all. (Why would I?) Sure, James was a top dog in Jerusalem. So? The fact that he was such an authority has almost no bearing on the authorship of the epistle being discussed, however. In your entire 1,500-plus-word last comment, there are only two brief points which even touch on the topic at hand. To paraphrase the gist of your argument:”It sure sounds like something Jesus’ brother would write! Don’t it? It sure sounds like the James that Paul describes!”Here, I will ask you where the son of a Galilean peasant laborer got the time and the resources (since you bring up “the poor”) to learn the nuances of the Greek language to such a high degree. This is highly refined, rhetorically sophisticated language, the kind of stuff that one would have needed an almost Homeric education to accomplish. This is not Mark’s grammatically inconsistent Greek, this is advanced writing. This is clearly a pastoral epistle. In answer to your question regarding James Tabor’s revelation of thirty allusions to Q material in James:Tabor is film maker, whose task it was to best present his case regarding his Talpiot thesis, using any cinematic means at his disposal, including hyperbole. His thesis requires that James is prominent in the story. The allusions he finds are really not as direct as one might imagine from such a statement. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that there ARE thirty such similarirties . . . . Does this mean that Matthew and Luke got the REST of the Q material from Thomas, then? If so . .. where in Thomas is it?Speaking of Thomas, though I accept the possibility that Thomas might contain some few parallel sayings which preserve an older oral tradition than Mark does, it is begging an enormous question to forward Thomas and James as the sources of the Q material, particularly in light of the fact that most of Thomas does NOT reflect such an early dating.Also . . . Has it occured to you that James might have been privvy to the Q oral traditions and that you have the direction of dependence all screwed up? Wouldn’t this explain the allusions just as well? In closing:Erudition and prolixity, though having the general effect of making one’s assertions seem weightier, in fact can not substitute for a clear and cogent argument, one that addresses the point at hand without having to erect distractingly lengthy strawmen arguments. They are flimsily tenuous. You got some serious uphill battles coming if you are going to suggest BOTH that James is authentic AND that Thomas is earlier than Matthew and Luke.And by the way. . .No one ever said the the author of the Epistle was a “forger.” To my eyes, that is but yet one more strawman tactic.Anyway, . . . here’s to truly hoping this is not answered by yet another prolix rant about tangential ephemera. (crosses fingers)peaceÓ

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16727202517182571557 paulf

    quixie:whoa, whoa, James Tabor is not a filmmaker, he is a leading scholar and archaeologist. Not only has he written many books and scholarly articles, he is heading up a new translation of the Bible called the “The Original Bible Project.” The rest of your post is OK, but go look up Tabor, he’s terrific. Frank:I think you are barking up the wrong tree. I don’t believe that the idea of literal pre-existence was even on the radar until after the books of the Bible were written. The idea that “Logos” equals “Word” which equals “pre-existent third person of the Trinity” is an idea created after the books of the New Testament were written.Let’s assume for a second that the author of James was in fact the brother of Jesus. As you note, he was a leader of the Jesus movement WITHIN THE JERUSALEM TEMPLE for at least three decades after his brother was crucified. His murder prompted an outroar by non-Christian Jews.Do you think he could have held that position, and been welcomed as a holy Jew by all accounts, if he had taught something contrary to Judiasm such as a three-headed deity? Not in a million years.Another thing. The book of James clearly differentiates between those who believe that salvation depends on living a holy life versus those who think all you need is faith. James is literally mocking Paul, or a Pauline advocate, who is spouting the idea of salvation by faith.Let’s face it, the people who lived with Jesus and were present during his ministry probably were shocked and appalled that someone like Paul would turn his life and teachings into something completely different.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    Hi paulf:Boy! That is a blunder.For some reason, when I got home and replied to this, I somehow got mixed up and confused Tabor with the film-maker who made the Talpiot documentary.I should have given it some thought. That’s what happens when you react and type when you are sleepy. Sorry about that. I actually HAVE heard Tabor lecture before, though I’ve not read him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16727202517182571557 paulf

    quixie:Tabor’s latest book, The Jesus Dynasty, is very provacative, although I note it was panned by some reviewers. I enjoyed it immensely.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16977985447972987579 Frank McCoy

    Dear Quixie:You write, “Here, I will ask you where the son of a Galilean peasant laborer got the time and the resources (since you bring up “the poor”) to learn the nuances of the Greek language to such a high degree. This is highly refined, rhetorically sophisticated language, the kind of stuff that one would have needed an almost Homeric education to accomplish. This is not Mark’s grammatically inconsistent Greek, this is advanced writing. This is clearly a pastoral epistle.”Where in Paul’s writings it is said that Jesus and/or James were of peasant stock and/or were Galileans? Where in Thomas is it said that Jesus and/or James were of peasant stock and/or were Galileans? For that matter, while Thomas mentions a Samaritan and Judea in 60 (where Jesus is apparently in Samaria near the Judean border) and Judeans in 43 and apparently has Jesus speaking in Jerusalem near the temple in 71, it never mentions Galileans or Galilee, much less ever places Jesus in Galilee.Where, in what Josephus states about Jesus and James, does he say that they were of peasant stock and/or were Galileans? If Jesus had been a citizen of Galilee, then why is it said in Jn 4:44-45, “For Jesus himself testified that a prophet does not have honor in his own country. Therefore, when he came into Galilee, the Galileans received him, having seen all things that he did in Jerusalem.”?Perhaps you are asking the wrong questions. Perhaps the questions you should be asking are questions like this one, “Is Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as a Galilean peasant a fairy tale and does Matthew expand this fairy tale by portraying Joseph as also having been a Galilean peasant?”, and this one, “Is John correct in having Jesus focusing most of his ministry at Jerusalem and in spending more time in intellectual debates with the literary elite there than in orating to peasants in Galilee?”


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