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History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100.
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§ 69. The Jewish Christian Theology—I. James and the Gospel of Law.


(Comp. § 27, and the Lit. given there.)


The Jewish Christian type embraces the Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude, the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, and to some extent the Revelation of John; for John is placed by Paul among the "pillars" of the church of the circumcision, though in his later writings he took an independent position above the distinction of Jew and Gentile. In these books, originally designed mainly, though not exclusively, for Jewish Christian readers, Christianity is exhibited in its unity with the Old Testament, as the fulfilment of the same. They unfold the fundamental idea of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:17), that Christ did not come to destroy the law or the prophets, but to "fulfil." The Gospels, especially that of Matthew, show historically that Jesus is the Messiah, the lawgiver, the prophet, priest, and king of Israel.

On this historical basis James and Peter build their practical exhortations, with this difference, that the former shows chiefly the agreement of the gospel with the law, the latter with the prophets.

James, the brother of the Lord, in keeping with his life-long labors in Jerusalem, his speech at the Council, and the letter of the Council—which he probably wrote himself—holds most closely to the Mosaic religion, and represents the gospel itself as law, yet as the "perfect law of liberty."755755    James 1:25: εἰς νόμον τἐλειον τὸν τῆς ἐλευθερίας. Herein lies the difference as well as the unity of the two dispensations. The "law" points to the harmony, the qualifying "perfect" and "liberty" to the superiority of Christianity, and intimates that Judaism was imperfect and a law of bondage, from which Christ has set us free. Paul, on the contrary, distinguishes the gospel as freedom from the law, as a system of slavery;756756    Gal. 5:1; 2 Cor. 3:6. but he re-establishes the law on the basis of freedom, and sums up the whole Christian life in the fulfilment of the law of love to God and to our neighbor; therein meeting James from the opposite starting-point.757757    Comp. Gal. 6:2 (the law of Christ); Rom. 13:8 sqq.; 3:22; 8:2.

James, the Christian legalist, lays great stress on good works which the law requires, but he demands works which are the fruit of faith in Him, whom he, as his servant, reverently calls "the Lord of glory," and whose words as reported by Matthew are the basis of his exhortations.758758    James 1:1; 2:1; τήν πίστιν τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τῆς δόζης. Such faith, moreover, is the result of it new birth, which he traces to "the will of God" through the agency of "the word of truth," that is, the gospel.759759    James 1:18: βουληθεις ἀπεκύησεν ἡμᾶς λόγῳ ἀληθείας. As to the relation between faith and works and their connection with justification at the tribunal of God, he seems to teach the doctrine of justification by faith and works; while Paul teaches the doctrine of justification by faith alone, to be followed by good works, as the necessary evidence of faith. The two views as thus stated are embodied in the Roman Catholic and the evangelical Protestant confessions, and form one of the chief topics of controversy. But the contradiction between James and Paul is verbal rather than logical and doctrinal, and admits of a reconciliation which lies in the inseparable connection of a living faith and good works, or of justification and sanctification, so that they supplement and confirm each other, the one laying the true foundation in character, the other insisting on the practical manifestation. James wrote probably long before he had seen any of Paul’s Epistles, certainly with no view to refute his doctrine or even to guard it against antinomian abuse; for this was quite unnecessary, as Paul did it clearly enough himself, and it would have been quite useless for Jewish Christian readers who were exposed to the danger of a barren legalism, but not of a pseudo-Pauline liberalism and antinomianism. They cannot, indeed, be made to say precisely the same thing, only using one or more of the three terms, "to justify," "faith," "works" in different senses; but they wrote from different standpoints and opposed different errors, and thus presented two distinct aspects of the same truth. James says: Faith is dead without works. Paul says: Works are dead without faith. The one insists on a working faith, the other on faithful works. Both are right: James in opposition to the dead Jewish orthodoxy, Paul in opposition to self-righteous legalism. James does not demand works without faith, but works prompted by faith;760760    James 2: 22 ἡ πίστις συνήργει τοῖς ἔργοις αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐκ τῶν ἔργων ἡ πίστις ἐτελειώθη. While Paul, on the other hand, likewise declares a faith worthless which is without love, though it remove mountains,761761    1 Cor. 13:2. and would never have attributed a justifying power to the mere belief in the existence of God, which James calls the trembling faith of demons.762762    James 2:19. But James mainly looks at the fruit, Paul at the root; the one is concerned for the evidence, the other for the principle; the one takes the practical and experimental view, and reasons from the effect to the cause, the other goes deeper to the inmost springs of action, but comes to the same result: a holy life of love and obedience as the necessary evidence of true faith. And this, after all, is the ultimate standard of judgment according to Paul as well as James.763763    See Rom. 2:6 (ὁς ἀποδώσει ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αύτοῦ); 2 Cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:7; comp. Matt. 12:37; 25:35 sqq. The solution of the apparent contradiction between the doctrines of justification by faith and judgment by works lies in the character of the works as being the evidence of faith. Paul puts the solution of the difficulty in one sentence: "faith working through love." This is the Irenicon of contending apostles and contending churches.764764    Gal. 5:6: πίστις δἰ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη, is operative (in the middle sense, as always in the New Test.). "These words," says Bishop Lightfoot (in loc.),"bridge the gulf which seems to separate the language of St. Paul and St. James. Both assert a principle of practical energy, as opposed to a barren in active theory." To quote from my own commentary on the passage (1882): "The sentence ’faith working through love’ reconciles the doctrine of Paul with that of James; comp. 6:15; 1 Thess. 1:3; 1 Cor. 13; 1 Tim. 1:5; James 2:22. Here is the basis for a final settlement of the controversy on the doctrine of justification. Romanism (following exclusively the language of James) teaches justification by faith and works; Protestantism (on the authority of Paul), justification by faith alone; Paul and James combined: justification and salvation by faith working through love. Man is justified by faith alone, but faith remains not alone: it is the fruitful mother of good works, which are summed up in love to God and love to men. Faith and love are as inseparable as light and heat in the sun. Christ’s merits are the objective and meritorious ground of justification; faith (as the organ of appropriation) is the subjective condition; love or good works are the necessary evidence; without love faith is dead, according to James, or no faith at all, according to Paul. A great deal of misunderstanding in this and other theological controversies has arisen from the different use of terms."

The Epistle of James stands at the head of the Catholic Epistles, so called, and represents the first and lowest stage of Christian knowledge. It is doctrinally very meagre, but eminently practical and popular. It enjoins a simple, earnest, and devout style of piety that visits the orphans and widows, and keeps itself unspotted from the world.765765    James 1:27; comp. 5:13sqq., and the concluding verse.

The close connection between the Epistle of James and the Gospel of Matthew arises naturally from their common Jewish Christian and Palestinian origin.


Notes


I. James and Paul.. The apparent contradiction in the doctrine of justification appears in James 2:14–26, as compared with Rom. 3:20 sqq.; 4:1 sqq.; Gal. 2:16 sqq. Paul says (Rom. 3:28): "Man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (πίστει χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου), comp. Gal. 2:16 (οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐζ ἔργων νόμου ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ), and appeals to the example of Abraham, who was justified by faith before he was circumcised (Gen. 17:10). James 2:24 says: "By works a man is justified, and not only by faith" (ἐξ ἔργων δικαιοῦται, ἄνθρωπος καὶ οὐκ ἐκ πίστεῶς μόνον), and appeals to the example of the same Abraham who showed his true faith in God by offering up his son Isaac upon the altar (Gen. 22:9, 12). Luther makes the contradiction worse by unnecessarily inserting the word allein(sola fide) in Rom. 3:28, though not without precedent (see my note on the passage in the Am. ed. of Lange on Romans, p. 136). The great Reformer could not reconcile the two apostles, and rashly called the Epistle of James an "epistle of straw" (eine recht ströherne Epistel, Pref. to the New Test., 1524).

Baur, from a purely critical point of view, comes to the same conclusion; he regards the Epistle of James as a direct attack upon the very heart of the doctrine of Paul, and treats all attempts at reconciliation as vain. (Vorles. über neutestam. Theol., p. 277). So also Renan and Weiffenbach. Renan (St. Paul, ch. 10) asserts without proof that James organized a Jewish counter-mission to undermine Paul. But in this case, James, as a sensible and practical man, ought to have written to Gentile Christians, not to "the twelve tribes," who needed no warning against Paul and his doctrine. His Epistle represents simply an earlier and lower form of Christianity ignorant of the higher, yet preparatory to it, as the preaching of John the Baptist prepared the way for that of Christ. It was written without any reference to Paul, probably before the Council of Jerusalem and before the circumcision controversy, in the earliest stage of the apostolic church as it is described in the first chapters of the Acts, when the Christians were not yet clearly distinguished and finally separated from the Jews. This view of the early origin of the Epistle is maintained by some of the ablest historians and commentators, as Neander, Schneckenburger, Theile, Thiersch, Beyschlag, Alford, Basset, Plumptre, Stanley. Weiss also says very confidently (Bibl. Theol. 3d ed., p. 120): "Der Brief gehört der vorpaulinischen Zeit an und steht jedenfalls zeitlich wie inhaltlich dem ersten Brief Petri am nächsten." He therefore treats both James and Peter on their own merits, without regard to Paul’s teaching. Comp. his Einleitung in d. N. T. (1886), p. 400.

II. James and Matthew. The correspondence has often been fully pointed out by Theile and other commentators. James contains more reminiscences of the words of Christ than any other Epistle, especially from the Sermon on the Mount. Comp. James 1:2 with Matt. 5:10–12; James 1:4 with Matt. 5:48; James 1:17 with Matt. 7:11; James 1:20 with Matt. 5:22; James 1:22 sqq. with Matt. 7:21 sq.; James 1:23 with Matt. 7:26; James 2:13 with Matt. 6:14 sq.; James 2:14 with Matt. 7:21–23; James 3:2 with Matt. 12:36, 37; James 3:17, 18 with Matt. 5:9; James 4:3 with Matt. 7:7; James 4:4 with Matt. 6:24; James 5:12 with Matt. 5:34. According to a notice in the pseudo-Athanasian Synopsis, James "the Bishop of Jerusalem" translated the Gospel of Matthew from the Aramaic into the Greek. But there are also parallelisms between James and the first Epistle of Peter, and even between James and the apocryphal books of Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon. See Plumptre, Com. on James, pp. 32 sq.



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