Big dispute here. Was James really the blood brother of Jesus as many Christians have always believed? (Mark 6:3 and Gal. 1:19)) Or was he a cousin, (to preserve the virginity of Mary) as the Roman and Orthodox Christians maintain?
I really don’t care. What interests me more is the question: How much influence did James have on the start of Christianity? We know that he stayed in Jerusalem (together with Peter and John) and ran a Jewish sect, centered around his brother, Jesus, from the year 40 C.E. until he was stoned to death by the High Priest Ananias in the year 62 C.E. What was he teaching his Jewish friends about Jesus? Was it the same as Paul was preaching?
James and the people who followed him were Jews. They attended the Temple in Jerusalem on the High Holy Days, circumcised their sons, and lived a kosher life. The only difference was their fascination and dedication to the life and message of Jesus, the little brother of James. But what about Paul?
In the beginning, James had to be scared to death of Paul. His name was Saul then and he roamed around Jerusalem and the surrounding cities like a Radical Muslim of today, killing every Jesus Jew he could find. (Gal. 1:13) James no doubt watched him stone to death his best friend, Stephen, and he wondered who was next. (Acts. 7:58) Then three years later this killer shows up — now named Paul — and claims he’s seen the risen Jesus, and from now on he’s an Apostle! (Gal. 1:18) I bet James said: “Yeah, sure.”
It’s another 14 years before Paul comes back to see James. This former terrorist who never met Jesus — comes to Jerusalem and tells James and the others that the followers of Jesus do not have to be Jewish. The Torah legislations may be just fine for Jews, but Greeks and Romans don’t want any part of them.
That would be like walking into St. Joseph’s Catholic Church this Sunday morning and announcing from the pulpit: “The male-chauvenistic ban on women/priests may be fine for the cardinals in Rome, but from now on, Americans do not have to follow it.”
James doesn’t tell us what he thought; we can only imagine. Paul, however, tells us that James accepted this bombshell — after an extended fight (Gal. 2:9) and shook hands with Paul. Now, the big question is: At this point, do we have two distinctly different “Christian” religions: A Jewish one with James in charge, and a non-Jewish one with Paul in charge? Or did Paul convince James that he was right and that James should go back to Jerusalem and change the way he had been living all of his life? I don’t think so.
Somehow, I just can’t see this towering brother of Jesus standing in the Temple of Jerusalem and announcing: “Brothers and Sisters, from now on, we will worship Jesus without Judaism. We will abandon our traditions, our High Holy Days, our calendar, and our devotions. We will forget about circumcision and kosher food and we will live free like our pagan neighbors.”
That doesn’t sound like Jesus and it doesn’t sound like James. But it does sound like Paul. We know Paul’s ideas permeated throughout the Mediteranian islands and into Spain and Rome. We know that the Christianity that was finally approved by the Nicean council in 325 was Pauline. And we know that Christian churches today are not synagoges; pastors are not rabbis; pork chops are eaten with relish. How did this happen?
I think James went back to Jerusalem and continued to live as a kosher Jew — preaching Jesus to all his followers until Titus came down from Rome in 70 CE, eight years after the death of James, and destroyed the city and the Temple. At that point, all things Jewish came tumbling down on their heads and the only Christian teacher left was Paul. That’s my opinion but I’m wide open to yours.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.