February 21, 2009

James' Epistle, c.AD 52 (part 1)

Sometimes, feeling scattered pays off in unexpected ways. Todd Bolen re-sparked my interest today in something I'd long wanted to post about. So thanks, Todd - even though this has little to do with your post itself. :)

The standard, traditional, conservative dating on James' Epistle typically concludes that it *must* have been written before c.50 AD (before the Council of Jerusalem), because the letter says nothing about Gentile believers. As if it should. The other main reason is because James (ch.2) discusses "justification by works". As if he couldn't have said that after 50, whatever he meant by that word.

Personally, I think those arguments rank as some of the worst logic I've ever seen in NT chronology. Aside from being theologically motivated, the view requires an incomplete assessment of NT events. Aside from that, it's apologetic overkill. I'm told theologians have at least three ways to reconcile James (2) with Paul's writings no matter when it was written. Why, then, insist on the early dating?

Yes, there was diversity among the early New Testament churches. No, that doesn't have to mean scripture contradicts itself here. The important question - at least to me - is whether theological, religious concerns have subverted potential efforts toward a more precise chronological reconstruction. As far as I can tell - although it may be merely due to another accident of history by this point - it seems they absolutely have.

I don't know who first tried to homogenize James and Paul, but we shouldn't be worried about the actual, non-homogenized facts hindering our faith-based view of the 'whole milk'. Au contraire. Let the cream rise to the top. Just don't throw out the rest of the bottle.

Facts, dates and figuring will begin with the next post in this series...

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