September 15, 2009

Perspective on James, not New Enough

Charles Savelle posted a link on Bible X to an article-in-progress slash blog-post by William Varner at Dr.IBEX. The first half of that article/post is wonderful, if a bit incomplete. Check it out, and note well a couple of key citations. Now, here are my own opinions:

No question, James became THE leader of the Jerusalem church, and may have considered himself THE leader of the worldwide church, but Paul did not share that opinion. Yes, Paul obeyed James, but Paul did not tell his churches to obey Jerusalem. Quite the opposite, in Galatians.

I am thrilled for what Varner affirms in this "new" perspective on James, but his section on the Epistle was much weaker - perhaps because Varner had not fully set the stage by examining the ongoing conflict after Acts 15 between Jerusalem and the Gentile churches. The confusion in Corinth mirrors the letter of the Council, strongly suggesting Peter, not Paul, was responsible for introducing those points into southern Greece.

If James and Paul remained at peace in Judea but in conflict abroad, it strongly suggests their apparent debates were in fact contemporary - iow, James was written after the Council. This in turn casts a dramatically literal light on James' Epistle's address: "To the twelve tribes dispersed". It was hardly to "the whole church" as Varner would like. This, combined with the strong parallels in language between James and Galatians, means we should work hard to reconstruct an occasion for James' Epistle after the Council of Jerusalem.

Interpretations of [and apologetics for] the theological [or, more likely, semantic] conflicts between the Epistles of James and Paul must follow, not lead, this historical inquiry.

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