Tuesday, October 11, 2005

More on James

And another thing about the Epistle of James: it wasn't accepted into the Scriptures until the 4th Century AD. Think about it: for 250 years there were letters and stories circulating that Christians took as their Scriptures, every bit as inspired as the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. But we have no record of anyone--Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian of Carthage, the Muratorian Canon, or Origen--accepting James as Scripture. Check it out at http://www.ntcanon.org/table.shtml. These people either shaped, or reflected the shape of, the early Church. Maybe they recognized that James and Paul don't mix.

If they didn't consider it part of Scripture, why should we?

12 comments:

Nomadtheo said...

John,

You have left little room for rebuttal. You have appealed to various Church fathers (though prematurely to Origen perhaps?) and you have canceled out appeals to in/out perspectives.

I am not so sure if you should so quickly discount the Synod of Hippo, where it was first accepted as Scripture in 393.

However, I will not blindly appeal to tradition for the acceptance of this "right strawy epistle," though I must say that tradition cannot be so blatantly ignored--something which evangelicals are quick to do these days, to their discredit.

In my brief investigation into the book of James for this discussion, I have found that its authorship was indeed noted as dubious. I'll not challenge this point.

Nevertheless, it may be "the best example in the NT of wrestling with the practical implications of the gospel," (Rikk Watts; whose notes I will draw on for the remainder of this post).

I want to discuss the value of the book of James. This value is perhaps what inspired the councils to accept it into the canon.

James is similar to the Proverbs of the wisdom literature. James "does not develop theories but reminds the readers of accepted truths; it does not expound theology but exhorts to virtue," (LT Johnson).

True wisdom is defined by James as; A) the control of the tongue (right speech that reflects the character of God), and; B) a right attitude to wealth (cf. OT and Jesus' teaching). Also, cf. Proverbs, where right speech leads to the right use of wealth. Where your mouth is, there your money will be too. There is value in this teaching.

In regards to Paul, and justification by faith alone. Here, the contradiction is more apparent than real. The issue is how one defines "faith" and more importantly "works". (This argument you have already discounted... though I am not sure why).

FAITH:

For Paul, "faith" is complete trust in Jesus resulting in a Spirit filled life that reflects the character of Jesus. If there is no character of Jesus reflected, then one can rightly question whether or not there is a Spirit filled life, and thus whether there is genuine faith.

For James, genuine faith produces a Christ-like life; a professed faith which 'does', and not only 'speaks'.

WORKS:

For Paul, "works" means the observance of Torah as the means of maintaining relationship with God

For James, "works" means the outworking of genuine faith, which is exactly what Paul expects of all who belong to Christ.

Thus, re: JUSTIFICATION:

For Paul, it means how one has right standing before God.

For James, it is whether or not one's faith is genuine.

I conclude with a long quote, because Luke Timothy Johnson says it better than I:

"Luther's view was not that of the early church, which regarded James as a powerful moral exhortation. Its late formal canonization in some areas was due not to concern about its content but to doubts about its apostolic origins. Luther's opinion was not shared by other reformers--John Calvin wrote an appreciative commentary on James. [That James has recently been studied in terms of its relationship to Paul] is doubly unfortunate. It unfairly makes Paul the sole criterion for canonical acceptance, and it disatrously reduces the significance of James to a few misunderstood verses."

Love you,

Ted

John said...

Ted,
On the contrary, I left as much room for rebuttal as one is willing to make for himself. A strong opinion is better than being wishy-washy, if indeed you're pretty sure of a subject. If I'm not sure, I remain quiet and keep my mind open. I keep my mind open in any case.

I don't *quickly* discount any Synod. It's taken a long time for the truth to settle in. Seems like the Synod pretty much put their stamp on what was going on in the 4th Century, with guys like Athanasius and Augustine laying out their list of the canon.

I am not blatantly ignoring tradition. In fact, it seems that Athanasius, Augusting and the Synod of Hippo are as "blatant" as I am, in ignoring the 250 years of tradition before them which never included James. I agree that people need to pay attention to tradition, but people also have the equal and opposite error of riding on the coattails of tradition. Jesus said "you make void the Word of God by your traditions." Tradition should be eyed with a healthy skepticism, as should egocentric monomaniacal adherence to ones own idea. It's the search for Truth that counts.

I think that Paul is "the best example in the NT of wrestling with the practical implications of the gospel." He seamlessly integrated the first things--Salvation by Grace through Faith (to which Luther rightly added the word 'alone' in his translation)--with the practical consequences. E.g., the first 3 chapters of Ephesians compared with the last 3. He does it all over the place--like the more conceptual Romans 1-11 as compared with the more practical Romans 12-16 (I hesitate to use these words, since Romans 1-11 is practical, albeit on a high level--and it *must* come first in ones life before, and as the basis of, 12-16).

You quote that James "does not develop theories but reminds the readers of accepted truths; it does not expound theology but exhorts to virtue." So does any good preacher. It doesn't make it scripture

You can't have the wiggle room of James defining "faith" and "works" one why, while Paul defines those words another way. That's just the sophistry of commentators trying to find a way to fit two incompatible thoughts together.

"For Paul, "faith" is complete trust in Jesus resulting in a Spirit filled life that reflects the character of Jesus. If there is no character of Jesus reflected, then one can rightly question whether or not there is a Spirit filled life, and thus whether there is genuine faith.

"For James, genuine faith produces a Christ-like life; a professed faith which 'does', and not only 'speaks'."

The word 'pistis', is not just trust. In the Septuagint OT, pistis translates three Hebrew words

(gotta stop for now... Hooray, a real live New Testament debate!)
later,
love, John

John said...

Continuing on...
Both Paul and James want to see righteousness expressed in the Faithers (I use that word instead of 'Believers', since 'Belief' only implies mental assent, while 'Faith' means to put your money where your mouth is. I have Dr. Gene Scott to thank for this one.). Paul's exortations to righteousness are all over the place (but almost always on the back side of his letters--he puts the horse before the cart). But while all James can do is nag, Paul already gave the secret--"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. some:where). "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live; yet Christ lives in me. And the life I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). And James makes a fatal blunder in his logic--he says in James 2:19 that the demons also faithe (again--not just 'believe'). If this were true, they would be saved.

As I was about to say in my previous comment, the greek word for the verb 'to faithe', pisteuo, means to put your body confidently where your belief is. In the Septuagint it translated 3 related Hebrew words: 'hasa,' to run to the shelter of a rock;
'batak,' to lean on a staff; and
'amen,' to have the internal completely settled confidence that automatically does the first two things without fear.
The first two are action words, and the 3rd is more than an action word, and is the state we all need to get to, in every aspect of life. In any case, the demons don't do any of these. They just believe, and shudder. James got his Greek wrong.

I agree that genuine faith produces a Christ-like life, but let's put the horse before the cart. The horse is Romans 1:16: "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power (dunamis, from which we get dynamite) of God unto salvation for everyone that believeth (acutally faithes)...." The cart is God's righteousness that He implants as we live the life of faith. Paul gives us the tools--James just gives us a guilt-trip.

"Justification" is the wrong word. It should be "righteousification" (again, thanks to Dr. Gene Scott). "Dikaioo" means not just right standing before God, as though it were just a legal proclamation. It starts with the legal proclamation--God seeing us as though we were as righteous as Jesus--and then moves on and continues to make us more and more righteous as our faithing life plugs us into the power of God so that we start bearing the fruit of the spirit more and more.

At the end of your comment you quote Luke Timothy Johnson: "It unfairly makes Paul the sole criterion for canonical acceptance". I don't make Paul the sole criterion for canonical acceptance. But if things are incompatible, rather than trying to make two incompatible things fit (thus conveniently avoiding the thorny issue of how Scripture was canonized, because if you throw James out, then where does it stop?), I prefer to reject error and keep truth.

By the way, it's more fun to try to make Paul and John fit together, since, like James, John seems to be talking more of works befitting Christians. But he doesn't fall into James's error of saying that we're righteousified by works.

Ted, throw your commentaries away for a little bit and read Acts 21:18-25 and see the disagreement between Paul and James. James was more interested in Paul proving that he was not teaching Jews to abandon Moses than in hearing what God did among the Gentiles. Read Gal. 2:12 etc. also. This may be argument from silence, but notice that Paul didn't worry about reassuring his listeners that he and James were really in agreement, it's just James's disciples who were problematic. And Paul in his letters written after the Council of Jerusalem basically ignores James injunction in Acts 15:20. Okay, you can pick up your commentary again.

Nomadtheo said...

John,

Sorry if I am not passionately for or against your line of reason. I see that the case against James is strong, just as it was at the time of canonization. I am also not one to get enraged when the integrity of the canon is challenged. Therefore, I am more middle of the road. But since it was accepted into the canon, I believe that the burden of proof lies with you.

Your note on "pistis" is interesting. If it only meant faith, then it would be incompatible with the gospel of faith. However, it can be translated as "faith" OR "belief." (This is not exegetical acrobatics. This is the most basic textbook definition. See William D. Mounce.)

Also, I am aware of the severe disagreements between James and Paul, especially in Galatians. I do not see this as conclusive evidence that James was incapable of producing of writing sound scripture, (especially IF inspired by the Holy Spirit).

I'll write from this quote from now on: "But if things are incompatible, rather than trying to make two incompatible things fit (thus conveniently avoiding the thorny issue of how Scripture was canonized, because if you throw James out, then where does it stop?), I prefer to reject error and keep truth."

There are countless seemingly contradictory things in the Bible. It is full of paradoxes. (A) Have faith, but do works. (B) The order of creation (animals or man first)? (C) Judas' method of suicide. (D) What did Jesus drink on the cross? (E) And yours, "We have to know ourselves - of course, by the INNER KNOWING OF THE SPIRIT, as replaced I's. It is I yet not I it is He! It really is He in place of me and yet here I still am! What a paradox!"

At the root of this discussion is our faith in the process of canonization.

How much do we trust those who formed the canon?

Do we trust the Holy Spirit to have played an active role in the process which delivered the Word of God--the Truth?

Along with James, the books of 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and maybe even Jude fall suspect. What are we to do with these books? Should we apply the same standards and inevitably strike them from the canon as well?

Most of all... by what authority are we excluding books from the canon?

These are not evasive questions. They are not slippery-slopes, smoke-screens, red-herrings, or straw-men. These are legitimate questions that need to be answered before your claim against James can be accepted.

Much love and a growing respect,

Ted

Nomadtheo said...

PS:

I wish that I could edit some grammar.

Also, I never finished my point on paradoxes.

The Bible is full of them. However, we need to try to make some sense out of the paradoxes. Some are compatible wtih each other, and others are not. This is not covering up embarrassing blemishes, but it is wrestling with what we have in order to make sense of it all. As you say, we are searching for the truth. And the truth is not always packaged nicely.

John said...

Ted,
You wrote:
How much do we trust those who formed the canon?

Do we trust the Holy Spirit to have played an active role in the process which delivered the Word of God--the Truth?

Along with James, the books of 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and maybe even Jude fall suspect. What are we to do with these books? Should we apply the same standards and inevitably strike them from the canon as well?

Most of all... by what authority are we excluding books from the canon?

These are not evasive questions. They are not slippery-slopes, smoke-screens, red-herrings, or straw-men. These are legitimate questions that need to be answered before your claim against James can be accepted.


Going backwards, I agree that they are legitimate questions, but I disagree that they all need to be answered byfore my claim against James can be accepted. You can accept my claim against James on its own merits (or lack thereof), and then move on to 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude (and don't forget Revelation, which I believe the Eastern Church, popularly misnomered Nestorians, still exclude). Let them fall suspect for now. Anyway, these books had much more acceptance from the ante-Nicene Fathers than James (ok, one of them had about as little acceptance as James, but I forget which one).

I would not ask the question, "By what authority are we excluding books from the canon?" but rather, "By what authority did the 4th century people, including the Nicene Council, the Synod of Hippo, Eusebius, Augustine, Athanasius, go against the wisdom of the Ante-Nicene Fathers to include a book they did not?"

There is a whole body of letters that the Ante Nicene fathers had no dispute over. I trust these guys more than the Nicene or Post-Nicene Fathers. A whole host of stuff went wrong when Constantine (a marginal Christian) ordered that Council, but that's another story.

Gottagonow. There will be more from me, I'm sure.

Yours in Christ and having fun,

John

Rob the Mob said...

O fun. A real live (well, over the internet debate) on the NT...about something on the NT that I have absolutely NO clue about. However, is it cool if I pass this site onto my roommate out here in Israel (he recently graduated from Bible college in Chicago (or was it Michigan?)).
-Rob

Rob the Mob said...

Edit on my last post (like Ted, I wish I could edit): It should be a question mark ("?") after the double parenthesis at the end of my thread, not a period.

John said...

Send it on over Rob. God bless

Rob the Mob said...

Thanks John. I'll pass the word on this Blog.
-Rob
P.S. Put a link up for this Blogger on my two (robinisrael and sf49ers, respectively). Hope that's cool.

BlazingSon said...

This is a fascinating debate. Within the book of James specifically, are there certain sections or phrases that may have been misinterpreted? I wonder if we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Also, please suggest a book or two that covers the period of canonizing the different books that we now call the New Testament (from my foggy history education I trace this back to Constantine in the mid-4th century AD). I am really intrigued by all of this.

Nomadtheo said...
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