Champion of Paul at the Conference.
I cannot enter upon a formal discussion of the many questions in dispute concerning this great event in the apostolic period. I can only briefly sketch my own interpretation of the part played by James on this occasion. In brief, it is here maintained that in Gal. 2: 1-10 Paul gives a report of the private interview with the leaders in Jerusalem after the first public meeting (Acts i5:3f. ; Gal. 2:2) was adjourned because of the violent opposition of the Judaizers (Acts 15: 5). In this private conference Paul, though anxious to win the public support of "James and Cephas and John, the reputed pillars" (Gal. 2:9), yet was not willing to compromise the great issue at stake, "our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus" (2:4) and "the truth of the gospel" (2:5). Paul reveals a certain amount of embarrassment in his references to the three great leaders in Jerusalem, as is manifest in the long and broken sentence in verses 6-10. He roundly asserts his independence of them and affirms that they imparted nothing to him (2:6). It seems clear that some of the more timid brethren were quite disposed to surrender to the Judaizers for the sake of peace and in particular to agree that Titus, a full-fledged Greek convert in Paul's company, should be circumcised. But Paul gave "the pillars" to understand that he would not have peace on those terms. It is quite possible that James, here mentioned before Cephas (Peter) and John as the real leader of the group, had not till now clearly understood Paul's true position. The Judaizers had in all probability counted on James to take their side against Paul, "but contrariwise, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision as Peter with the gospel of the circumcision - they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision" (2: 7-9). It is much easier to think of James as the author of chap. 2 in his Epistle before this event than after this pact with Paul. Note also verse 9: "And when they perceived the grace that was given to me." Now the coast is clear and Paul is sure of victory in the open Conference. The stipulation about the poor (2:10) was in harmony with Paul's previous practice (Acts 11 : 29f)
In the second meeting of the general Conference James evidently presides and sums up the situation in favor of Paul after Peter (Acts 15:7-12) has shown how they had already agreed to Gentile liberty in the case of Cornelius and his household. James, with due deliberation (15 : 13), concludes (15 : 14-21) with a pointed endorsement of Simon (verse 14, a Quaint Hebraic touch) Peter's speech and acceptance of the work at Caesarea and among the Gentiles generally as a visitation of God verse 14). He clinches the whole matter by showing that the prophets (as Amos 9:11f.) agree with this position that the Gentiles are to be saved. "Why my judgment is," he says as the President of the Conference, practically offering a resolution for the vote of the Conference, "that we trouble not them that from among the Gentiles turn to God." He has put the matter in a very happy form. Surely Jewish Christians could but rejoice to see Gentiles "turn to God." James proposes the writing of an epistle to the Gentile Christians to this effect with the added warning "that they abstain from the pollution of idols, and from fornication, and from what is strangled, and from blood." It is at least open to question whether "what is strangled" is genuine here, since it is wanting in D (Codex Bezae), Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian, as also in 15:28. If so, the prohibition is against idolatry (idol-feasts), murder (blood), and immorality (fornication), the great vices of heathensim. But with the text as it stands, "things strangled," we seem to have a concession to the Jewish ceremonial law and to Jewish prejudices on that point. James is not uneasy about Moses, for he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath (Acts 15: 21), a reference to the habit of the Christians still to worship in the Jewish synagogues (cf. James 2:2). The "wisdom" of James is manifest in this masterly address, which carried conviction to such an extent that the resolution of James was carried unanimously by the body of "the apostles and the elders, with the whole church" (15: 22), a remarkable outcome, when the bitterness of the Judaizers is considered, and a distinct tribute to the influence of James. We may assume that the Judaizers were silent, since they saw that, they were hopelessly defeated.
The epistle which was sent to the church at Antioch (15:23-29) embodies the ideas of James and was probably written by him, since the style is like that of his speech and the Epistle that bears his name. The letter expressly disclaims responsibility for the conduct of the Judaizers at Antioch (15:24), pointedly condemns their behavior, commends "our beloved Barnabas and Paul" (25!), refers to the messengers Judas and Silas, claims the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the stand for Gentile freedom (28), and repeats the stipulations in the speech of James about the special Gentile sins (29). There can be no question that James here entered fully into sympathy with the contention of Paul that the yoke of Jewish ceremonialism should not be imposed upon the Gentile Christians. James is a champion of the Pauline doctrine of "grace" as opposed to "works." It is interesting to note the phrase "the perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). It is difficult to see how, after this Conference, James and Paul could misunderstand or oppose each other. As we shall see, the real explanation of the apparent conflict between James 2 and Rom. 3 is quite other than this unnecessary hypothesis. James has now given the great weight of his character and influence among the Jewish Christians to the endorsement of the work of Paul among the Gentiles. James is a Jewish Christian, but not a Judaizer. He does not wish to impose the burden of the Mosaic ritual upon the Gentiles, though he still observes it himself, as do the other Jewish Christians, including Paul himself.
From Practical and Social Aspects of Christianity - The Wisdom of James by A.T. Robertson, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012. The update is not complete.
Insights of the past for the present
Wisdom of James - A.T. Robertson
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