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James & Paul

24-08-2013 - Posted by Andre Piet

1_blog_9 It is perhaps the most notorious contradiction in the Bible. I’m referring to the diametrically opposed statements of James and Paul about faith and works. That contradiction, you do not have to look for, it forces itself on every Bible reader. James, “the brother of the Lord” (Gal.1:19) states:

You see that by works a man is being justified, and not by faith only. -James 2:24-

Paul, in contrast, explains:

Yet to him who is not working, yet is believing on Him Who is justifying the irreverent, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. -Romans 4:5-

And in the Ephesian-letter:

For in grace, through faith, are you saved, and this is not out of you; it is God’s approach present, not of works, lest anyone should be boasting. -Ephesians 2:8,9-

One could point out that Paul and James were referring to different events. Paul refers in Romans 4 to Genesis 15, where Abram believed God’s promise “and it was accounted to him for righteousness”. James, on the other hand, refers to Genesis 22, when Abraham’s faith was put to the test. Then it was about “show me your faith” (Ja.2:18). And one could also argue that also with Paul “good works” are inseparably linked to faith (Eph.2:10). All that is true and it is important to include this, when considering this issue. But it does not explain why James’ focus is so totally different from that of Paul, in his letters. Although it is not widely known, the reason for this difference is several times explained, by the Bible itself. Take the letter to the Galatians. In Galatians 1 and 2, Paul describes how he was called, independent of those who were already apostles before him (1:16,17) including James (1:19). The Evangel that he proclaimed, he had not heard or learned from them, but it was made known to him by revelation (1:12). As Paul describes his visit to Jerusalem (2:1), where he presented to the leaders the Evangel that he preached among the nations (2:2), he emphasizes the following:

and (the apostles) knowing the grace, which is being given to me (Paul), James and Cephas (=Peter) and John, who are supposed to be pillars, give to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we, indeed, are to be for the nations, yet they for the Circumcision, -Galatians 2:9-

This was a very important, official agreement, which also directly classifies our “New Testament”! James, Peter and John are for the Jewish people, while Paul is for the nations, without distinction. The message that Paul brought is called “the Evangel of the uncircumcision,” while the others proclaimed “the gospel of the circumcision”.

But, on the contrary, perceiving that I have been entrusted with the evangel of the Uncircumcision, according as Peter of the Circumcision-Galatians 2:7-

This wording makes it clear that not only the “target-audiences” differ but the message, as well. However, the basis of both messages is the same, namely, the risen Messiah or the Christ (1Cor.15:11). But “the Evangel of the circumcision” is a call to repentance to the Jewish people, with the related expectation that the Kingdom would be revealed (Acts 3:19-21). Paul, however, was not given this message, because he was given to understand that (the rulers in) Jerusalem would not repent and that he, therefore, was sent to the nations (Acts 22:18-22), with a “non-Jewish evangel”, “the Evangel of the uncircumcision”. James was a leader in Jerusalem, where tens of thousands of Jews believed in the Messiah, and all were “zealous of the law” (Acts 21:20). They observed “the customs” (Acts 21:21), such as circumcision, the keeping of the Sabbath, the temple service, etc. From the books of the prophets, we know that these customs will serve a major role in the coming, Messianic kingdom (Isa.2:3, 66:23). However, in Paul’s Evangel, these “works of the law” are irrelevant. His ministry is a model for the time that the Jewish nation is set aside and the nations are the norm (Rom.11:11-15). Hence, he refers to Abraham in uncircumcision (Rom.4:10; Gal.3:6), whom God, hundreds of years before the law came (Gal.3:17), justified through faith alone. Within “the ecclesia, the body of Christ” (of which only Paul speaks), the Jewish privileges do not play any role, because “the law of precepts … was nullified” (Eph.2:15). We do not need to brush away the contrast between James and Paul. They address two different audiences. James wrote his epistle “to the twelve tribes …” (1:1), while Paul directed his message to the nations and still does this (Rom.11:13).James and Paul represent two different phases in God’s plan of salvation. James (Jacob) stands for Israel, while Paul represents the interruption in God’s dealings with Israel. Both of their names are very revealing: James is Jakob, the man who became Israel at his conversion (Gen.32:28). The name Paul is related to the Greek verb “pau” which means “stop”. Hence, a pau-se, a break, an interruption.