High Octane Faceoff in Jerusalem
In the beginning was the dispute and the dispute was (between) Apostles
Until Jesus (peace be upon him) was with his disciples, the so called body of Christ (peace be upon him) was united under the Laws and regulations of the Old Testament since their “lord and savior” himself was under the Law. During his ministry not a single follower opened his mouth against the Laws or any other doctrine like sin and salvation.
However, no sooner did he ascended, controversies pertaining doctrines unleashed. As if every individual got an opportunity to impress his/her own doctrine with a self-made stamp of Jesus (peace be upon him) on it – Paul was no exclusion.
Nevertheless, when Paul’s aberrations became too perspicuous, majority of earliest Church council at Jerusalem including Jesus’ (peace be upon him) brother – James, made every attempt to thwart him. It was this uprising against Pauline doctrines that we seek to address herein.
Paul: Old Testament Laws are “Useless and Dead”
Although a Pharisee, once Christ (peace be upon him) bid good bye to Jerusalem, Paul got all opportunity he could to firstly claim that he saw thunder and lightening to thus claim that his “verses” are authoritative as they come from Jesus (peace be upon him) himself.
However, in his “verses”, he promulgated doctrines which were quite unlike Jesus (peace be upon him) and the beliefs of earliest Christians.
Whereas Jesus (peace be upon him) asserted that he has not come to do away with the Laws but to make them come true, Paul unhesitatingly claimed the opposite. He claimed that Jesus (peace be upon him) brought the Laws to an end:
“For Christ has brought the Law to an end, so that everyone who believes is put right with God.” (Romans 10:4)
“What, then, was the purpose of the Law? It was added in order to show what wrongdoing is, and it was meant to last until the coming of Abraham’s descendant, to whom the promise was made.” (Galatians 3:19)
“But before the time for faith came, the Law kept us all locked up as prisoners until this coming faith should be revealed. And so the Law was in charge of us until Christ came, in order that we might then be put right with God through faith. Now that the time for faith is here, the Law is no longer in charge of us.” (Galatians 3: 23-25)
“Now, however, we are free from the Law, because we died to that which once held us prisoners. No longer do we serve in the old way of a written law, but in the new way of the Spirit.” (Romans 7:6)
According to Paul’s belief, Laws were “useless” and merely plastic rituals:
“When Christ went through the tent and entered once and for all into the Most Holy Place, he did not take the blood of goats and bulls to offer as a sacrifice; rather, he took his own blood and obtained eternal salvation for us. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a burnt calf are sprinkled on the people who are ritually unclean and this purifies them by taking away their ritual impurity.
Since this is true, how much more is accomplished by the blood of Christ! Through the eternal Spirit he offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to God. His blood will purify our consciences from useless rituals, so that we may serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9: 12-14)
“This is an illustration which points to the present time. It means that the offerings and animal sacrifices presented to God cannot make the worshippers’s heart perfect, since they have to do only with food, drink, and various purification ceremonies. These are all outward rules, which apply only until the time when God will establish the new order.” (Hebrews 9: 9-10. Today’s English Version)
Paul was doing away with the Old Testament Laws out of Jerusalem, in Gentile lands, and therefore James and other dignitaries of the Jerusalem Church council concerted to oppose Paul when he came to Jerusalem. They asked him to lead, execute and bear the expenses of the Old Testament ceremonies:
“When we arrived in Jerusalem, the believers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to see James; and all the church elders were present. Paul greeted them and gave a complete report of everything that God had done among the Gentiles through his work.After hearing him, they all praised God.
Then they said, Brother Paul, you can see how many thousands of Jews have become believers, and how devoted they all are to the Law.They have been told that you have been teaching all the Jews who live in Gentile countries to abandon the Law of Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or follow the Jewish customs.They are sure to hear that you have arrived. What should be done, then?This is what we want you to do.
There are four men here who have taken a vow. Go along with them and join them in the ceremony of purification and pay their expenses; then they will be able to shave their heads. In this way everyone will know that there is no truth in any of the things that they have been told about you, but that you yourself life in accordance with the Law of Moses.
But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent them a letter telling them we decided that they must not eat any food that has been offered to idols, or any blood, or any animal that has been strangled, and that they must keep themselves from sexual immorality.
So Paul took the men and the next day performed the ceremony of purification with them. Then he went into the Temple and gave notice of how many days it would be until the end of the period of purification, when a sacrifice would be offered for each one of them (1.). (Acts 21: 17-26. Today’s English Version)
Paul: Faith-Only, who cares for Deeds!
There is more to the controversy between James and Paul. Paul wanted to do away with the Laws of the revered Old Testament because he believed that it is Faith-Only through which man is saved, not by the deeds of the Laws:
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Gal 2:16)
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Rom 3:20)
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Rom 3:28)
But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. (Gal 3:11)
Paul went so far as to defiantly claim that man can never be put right with God by observing the deeds of the Laws:
“But now God’s way of putting people right with himself has been revealed. It has nothing to do with law, even though the Law of Moses and the prophets gave their witness to it.” (Romans 3: 21, Today’s English Version)
“Indeed, we are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners,” as they are called. Yet we know that a person is put right with God only through faith in Jesus Christ, never by doing what the Law requires.” (Galatians 2:15-16, Today’s English Version)
Paul’s formula was, merely believe in Jesus’ (peace be upon him) alleged resurrection and this would not only be a certificate to do away with Laws but even ensure salvation:
“If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved. For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10, Today’s English Version)
Recognizing Paul’s gross aberrations from the original doctrines, James started to defend original Christian doctrine in his polemical epistles wherein he stressed that man is not justified through Faith-Only; true faith has to be complimented by Deeds:
“My brothers, what good is it for someone to say that he has faith is his actions do not prove it?” (James 2:14)
“My brother, what good is it for someone to say that he has faith if his actions do not prove it? Can that faith save him? Suppose there are brothers and sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!” – if you don’t give them the necessities of life? So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead.” (James 2: 14-17)
“But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.” Do :You believe that there is only one God? Good! The demons also believe – and tremble with fear. You fool! Do you want to be shown that faith without actions is useless?” (James 2: 18-20)
Today’s English Version
Thus, it is not hard to perceive that James disagreed with Paul in fundamental doctrines between Faith and Deeds.
When challenged, Paul appealed to the Abraham (peace be upon him) that it was through Faith-only that he was put right with God; without any deeds:
“What shall we say, then, of Abraham, the father of our race? If he was put right with God by the things he did, he would have something to boast about – but not in God’s sight. The scripture says, “Abraham believed God, and because of his faith God accepted him as righteous.”
A person who works is paid his wages, but they are not regarded as a gift; they are something that he has earned. But the person who depends on his faith, not on his deeds, and who believes in God who declares the guilty to be innocent, it is his faith that God takes in to account in order to put him right with himself. (Romans 4: 1-5)
“For we have quoted the scripture, “Abraham believed God, and because of his faith God accepted him as righteous.” When did this take place? Was it before or after Abraham was circumcised? It was before, not after. He was circumcised later, and his circumcision was a sign to show that because of his faith God had accepted him as righteous before he had been circumcised. (Romans 4: 9-11)
Today’s English Version
However, James yet again rebutted Paul by eliciting the detail that Abraham (peace be upon him) was put right through his pure faith which was reflected when he acceded to sacrifice Isaac (peace be upon him) – an information, hitherto, put under lid by Paul:
“How was our ancestor Abraham put right with God? It was through his actions, when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. Can’t you see? His faith and his actions worked together; his faith was made perfect through his actions.
And the scripture came true that said, “Abraham believed God, and because of his faith God accepted him as righteous.” And so Abraham was called God’s friend. You see, then, that it is by his actions that a person is put right with God, and not by his faith alone.” (James 2: 21-24, Today’s English Version)
To reinforce his position, James referred to Rahab. She being a prostitute had little faith and fear of God but yet she was put right with God because of her helpful deeds for the Israelites:
“It was the same with the prostitute Rahab. She was put right with God through her actions, by welcoming the Israelite spies and helping them to escape by a different road. So then, as a body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without actions is dead.” (James 2:25-26, Today’s English Version)
Over and over again, James wrote to scotch Paul’s personal doctrines. From a neutral perspective, we find James’ polemics scripturally (New Testament) supported.
One of the most important figures of New Testament – John, emphatically asserts that pure faith has to be reflected through pious deeds:
“When John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him to be baptized, he said to them, “You snakes – who told you that you could escape from the punishment God is about to send? Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins.” (Matthew 3: 7-8, Today’s English Version)
Notice that as far as Faith-only was concerned the Jews had hypocritically believed and thus came for baptism. However, John demanded that their faith to be reflected through deeds. As James earlier ironically questioned that how can there be true faith without deeds.
Christian Scholars of New Testament also bear witness to James’ doctrine. According to Robertson, a change of Faith in heart has to reflect through acts:
Fruit worthy of repentance (Karpon axion tēs metanoias). John demands proof from these men of the new life before he administers baptism to them. “The fruit is not the change of heart, but the acts which result from it” (McNeile). It was a bold deed for John thus to challenge as unworthy the very ones who posed as lights and leaders of the Jewish people. “Any one can do (poiēsate, vide Gen 1:11) acts externally good but only a good man can grow a crop of right acts and habits” (Bruce). (Robertson’s Word Pictures, Matthew 3:8)
Classical Bible Commentators Matthew Henry also supports James’ theology:
Here is a word of exhortation and direction (Mat 3:8); “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance. Therefore, because you are warned to flee from the wrath to come, let the terrors of the Lord persuade you to a holy life.” Or, “Therefore, because you profess repentance, and attend upon the doctrine and baptism of repentance, evidence that you are true penitents.”
Repentance is seated in the heart. There it is as a root; but in vain do we pretend to have it there, if we do not bring forth the fruits of it in a universal reformation, forsaking all sin, and cleaving to that which is good; these are fruits, axious tēs metanoias – worthy of repentance.
Note, Those are not worthy the name of penitents, or their privileges, who say they are sorry for their sins, and yet persist in them. They that profess repentance, as all that are baptized do, must be and act as becomes penitents, and never do any thing unbecoming a penitent sinner.
It becomes penitents to be humble and low in their own eyes, to be thankful for the least mercy, patient under the greatest affliction, to be watchful against all appearances of sin, and approaches towards it, to abound in every duty, and to be charitable in judging others. (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew 3:7-12)
Although it is plain that Matthew Henry are exhorting Christian believers towards acts that are “good” such as charity and fair judgment. However, on a closer observation all the deeds of the Laws were “good”, as a matter of fact, charity and fair judgment were very integral part of the Old Testament Laws:
“How I love your law! I think about it all day long. Your commandment is with me all the time and makes me wiser than my enemies. I understand more than all my teachers, because I meditate on your instructions. I have greater wisdom than old men, because I obey your commands.
I have avoided all evil conduct, because I want to obey your word. I have not neglected your instructions, for you yourself are my teacher. How sweet is the taste of your instructions- sweeter than honey! I gain wisdom from your laws, and so I hate all bad conduct.” (Psalms 119:97-104)
“Happy are those whose lives are faultless, who live according to the law of the LORD. Happy are those who follow his commands, who obey him with all their heart. They never do wrong; they walk in the LORD’S ways. LORD, you have given us your Laws and told us to obey them faithfully.
How I hope that I shall be faithful in keeping your instructions! If I pay attention to all your command then I will not be put to shame. As I learn your righteous judgments, I will praise you with a pure heart. I will obey your laws; never abandon me!” (Psalms 119:1-8)
“Help me understand your Laws, and I will meditate in your wonderful teachings…Keep me from going the wrong way, and in your goodness teach me your law…I will eagerly obey your commands, because you will give me more understanding. Teach me, LORD, the meaning of your Laws, and I will obey them at all times.
Explain your law to me, and I will obey it; I will keep it with all my heart. Keep me obedient to your commandments, because in them I find happiness. Give me the desire to obey your laws rather than to get rich.
Keep me from paying attention to what is worthless; be good to me, as you have promised…how wonderful are your judgments! I want to obey your commands; give me new life, for you are righteous. (Psalms 119:27-40)
Today’s English Version
From the foregoing Old Testament verses, it is not hard to deduce that Matthew-Henry were referring to the good deeds which is achieved by observing the Laws. Even if they were not referring to the Old Testament Laws, still, in the light of the above verses, by observing the Old Laws nothing but “good”, “charity” and “fair judgment” can be achieved!
Similarly, Jesus (peace be upon him) also recommended practicing good deeds of the Laws rather than Pauline Faith-only theory:
“Once a man came to Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what good thing must I do to receive eternal life?” “Why do you ask me concerning what is good?” answered Jesus. “There is only one who is good. Keep the commandments if you want to enter life.
” “What commandments?” he asked. Jesus answered, “Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; respect you father and your mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Matthew 19: 16-18)
Notice how Jesus (peace be upon him) enlisted the good deeds of the Laws the questionnaire need to do to enter “eternal life”. He did not taught that Faith-Only would achieve salvation.
In fact, after upholding and teaching about obedience to Laws, Jesus (peace be upon him) asserted that if anybody hears him and does not bring into execution the Laws then such a person “builds his house on sand”:
“So then, anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers overflowed, and the wind blew hard against the house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock.
But anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain poured down, the rivers overflowed, the wind blew hard against that house, and it fell. And what a terrible fall that was!” (Matthew 7:24-26, Today’s English Version)
From the above verse, Jesus (peace be upon him) decidedly asserted that all those who do not obey and execute the deeds of the Law are in loss; very unlike Paul who over-defiantly, claimed that Laws can NEVER achieve salvation to man:
“Indeed, we are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners,” as they are called. Yet we know that a person is put right with God only through faith in Jesus Christ, never by doing what the Law requires.” (Galatians 2:15-16)
“But now God’s way of putting people right with himself has been revealed. It has nothing to do with law, even though the Law of Moses and the prophets gave their witness to it.” (Romans 3: 21)
Today’s English Version
Things went out of hand at this junction. As much aggravated by Paul’s distortions and worried by his increasing influence among the Gentiles, James forsook his polemical epistles to physically send his followers in Gentile lands to resist Paul:
“But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him in public, because he was clearly wrong. Before some men who had been sent by James arrived there, Peter had been eating with the Gentile brothers. But after these men arrived, he drew back and would not eat with the Gentiles,
because he was afraid of those who were in favor of circumcising them. The other Jewish brothers also started acting like cowards along with Peter; and even Barnabas was swept along by their cowardly actions.” (Galatians 2: 11-13, Today’s English Version)
Notice that under the counseling of James’ messengers, Peter and Barnabas – two of the earliest apostles, sided with them. However, unfortunately, Paul incriminated and entitled them as “cowards”! This incident opens up room for several queries, they are as follows:
(i) With what authority did Paul malign Peter AND Barnabas as “cowards”? Were they any less in knowledge or piety than Paul?
(ii) Paul’s maledictions also imply that both Barnabas AND Peter – the one who ate and roamed with Jesus (peace be upon him) – were shaky in their faith, otherwise, why would they be “swept along cowardly”? If the earliest of, not mere Christians, but so called Apostles (plural), were trepid and timorous in their faith then what case and guaranty does Christianity has to offer!
It was expected that Peter and Barnabas would act something like Islam’s Sumaiyya (may Allah (SWT) be pleased with her) who preferred to be ripped open into two halves than “cowardly” succumbing to threats!
(iii) On the foregoing if Peter AND Barnabas were perfect in their faith, then this implies they found good grounds in the Old Testament Laws, John’s and Christ’s (peace be upon them) teachings, to side “cowardly” with James and his employed messengers. Or, they found good reasons to reject Paul’s personal opinions on key doctrines. This further endangers Paul’s theology!
We find clash of doctrines in the very incipient stages of Christianity between people who witnessed Jesus (peace be upon him) during their life time! (of course Paul did not saw Jesus (peace be upon him) during his lifetime) Such accounts are not found in extra-biblical materials but within the so called “Book of Books”. (We are not quoting it from non-canonical or fabricated, story or biographical books.)
Whereas Paul had portrayed Christianity as a Faith-Only system, James advocated for Faith+Deeds theology.
On one hand where Paul defined Christianity without Laws, they being dead and useless; we found, James and other senior earliest Christians very loyal to the Laws for they did not reject the teachings of John and Jesus (peace be upon them).
In order to mollify the earliest Christian believers of Jerusalem, James and other senior Church members of Jerusalem organized Old Testament ceremonies and Paul was made to not only lead, but even bear expenses for it – all of this to prove that Law was still viable (even after the alleged cross) and there is no truth in Paul’s assertions who claimed that Laws were “dead and useless”.
When Paul’s influence grew, James had to employ his followers to thwart Paul. Ironically, Peter and Barnabas supported James for this step which went awfully disgusting for Paul who maligned them as “cowards”!
Even after so much inklings and proofs that Paul had coined new doctrines, Christians today are willing to reject multiple and traditional Old Testament teachings, New Testament testimonies of John, Jesus (peace be upon them), James, Peter, Barnabas and other earliest elders of the Jerusalem Church!
It may be good to love and respect Paul; however, it is equally important not to reject truths of God; there is nothing wrong in not accepting what is scripturally unsupported. We request Christians to analyze their Scriptures unbiasedly.
(1.) Apart from the fact that Apostle James and the earliest Christians did not believed that Old Testament Laws had been brought to an end by Jesus (peace be upon him), the observance of purification ceremony also implies that these earliest Christians did not believe that either:
a.) Christ’s (peace be upon him) alleged sacrifice is not complete enough to bear the sins.
b.) Or, Jesus’ (peace be upon him) alleged crucifixion is not the only mode of remission of sins.
It is because in the purification ceremony, these earliest Christians of Jerusalem were to offer a SIN-OFFERING.
Kindly refer the following article on the subject: What was Paul up to in Jerusalem?
- Unless otherwise mentioned, all biblical texts are taken from King James Version, e-Sword.