In part one I talked about the confusion between the doctrine of justification by faith and the letter of James where he states that “faith without works is dead,” and “you must be doers of the Word.” The dating of the letter of James and also its authorship has been debated over the years. There is no detail that can specifically date it, though the general consensus these days is that it was written fairly early on in the church era, by James the brother of Jesus. Though there those who would argue otherwise. On the other hand we are certain that Paul’s letter to the Romans was written before Paul’s journey to Jerusalem in the late 50s AD. The main source of history of the early church is the Book of Acts, and in chapter 15 it records the Council of Jerusalem in circa 49 AD which was a debate between those termed “Judaisers” and Paul who argued for what is now known as justification by faith. The background to this is that men arrived in Antioch claiming to have the authority of James, who had become the effective leader of the Jerusalem Church after the Apostles had been forced to leave Jerusalem because of persecution. Initially, they had great influence when Peter and Barnabas disassociated themselves from the Gentile fellow-believers, but Paul managed to persuade them to re-engage. But in order to persuade the likes of Peter and Barnabas did the Judaisers try and use the letter of James as evidence for their position that Gentiles needed to become Jews to be saved? Luke summarises the debate as ending generally in Paul’s favour. Though none of the speeches used by those in favour of the Judaisers position are recorded but Paul asked in Romans the rhetorical question: Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? This has been a charge brought against those who preach justification by faith since Paul’s time. Paul emphatically denied the charge but that is how human logic using unspiritual eyes sees the Gospel. So I am sure that many of the contributors to the discussion would have raised that point from every possible angle. Especially because it hides that fact that their basic objection was actually a prejudice against Gentiles. The important point being that non-Jews did not have to be circumcised. Luke even records James as agreeing with the basic concept of justification by faith. This was deliberate by Luke to demonstrate that those who were trying to use the Letter of James to undermine justification by faith were taking it out of context. The letter of James is about hypocrisy and if you had been brought up in a family with an elder brother who was perfect you would probably intolerant of it as well. However, the Judaisers, and others who have since adopted their faith plus works view of salvation, did not go away they just became more subtle in their methods.
Today, there is an increasing number of Jewish believers in Jesus as their Messiah. The downside of this is that many of these have a problem with the predominantly Gentile Church, finding many of the practices of the traditional church as alien to them. There is a tendency to attribute any difference between Judaism and Christianity as being as a result of pagan influences. Everything is blamed on the Gentile Christians as if Judaism was perfect. Their arguments sound spiritual but when you try and engage with those who have been influenced by them, you find that they regard the Jewish Torah as being more inspired than the New Testament, and therefore it trumps all of Paul’s teachings. Though they will not formally admit this. They may go on about observing the Jewish Sabbath instead of Sunday, but their observance of “thou shalt not bear false witness” leaves something to be desired.
David Rose, 2018.