THE LETTER OF JAMES

INTRODUCTION II: YA'AKOV, SERVANT OF GOD

 

Beloved Heavenly Father,

Your faithful love for mankind has endured throughout the ages. You are the God of the Patriarchs of ancient days: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Your infinite wisdom, Lord, You chose Jacob to be the physical father of the 12 tribes of the people You would form into the holy nation of Israel. It was from the holy remnant of these 12 tribes that You established the Catholic Church as the New Israel whose mission is to call the whole earth to come to repentance and faith in the Gospel of salvation through Jesus the Messiah. Lead us now, Lord, as You led these faithful men of ancient times, and send Your Holy Spirit to guide us, Father, as we study the letter of Your servant James to the faithful of the universal Church down through the centuries, calling all believers to submit to a life of righteousness, obedience, and love. We pray in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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St. Paul recounting his meeting with the leaders of the Church on his visit to Jerusalem: "...and when they acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, then James, and Cephas (Peter) and John, who were the ones recognized as pillars, offered their right hands to Barnabas and to me as a sign of partnership: we were to go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised." Galatians 2:9

 

"James, the Lord's brother, succeeds to the government of the Church in conjunction with the Apostles. He has been universally called 'the Just,' from the days of the Lord down to the present time. For many bore the name of James; but this one was holy from his mother's womb." Commentaries on the Acts of the Church, Hegesippus [c. 120-180AD].

 

 

THE MAN KNOWN AS JAMES THE JUST, SEVANT OF GOD

The two most interesting historical accounts of James come to us from Jewish sources, one from a Jewish priest turned historian who was a contemporary of St. James and the other from a Jewish Christian whose grandparents or perhaps even his parents may have known or certainly knew of James, Bishop of Jerusalem.

 

The man known to history as Flavius Josephus was born in 37AD, just seven years after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, to a prominent Judean family and was given the Hebrew name Joseph. He was born into a priestly family and was himself trained for priestly service in the holy Temple in Jerusalem. When St. Paul visited the Temple with St. James in what was probably the spring of 58AD, Josephus/Joseph would have been about 20 years old. Certainly when Josephus began to serve as a Jewish deacon in the Temple at age 25 in 62AD he would have heard and probably seen the saintly St. James, first bishop of the Church in Jerusalem who was such a controversial figure among the Jews as he led more and more Jews out of the Old Covenant faith and into the New Covenant faith that embraced Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah. St. James was martyred sometime between 64 and 69AD on the orders of the Jewish High Priest Ananus: 'Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the Law, he delivered them to be stoned; but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assembly a Sanhedrin without his consent; whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, .." Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1. It is interesting the scandal that James' death caused among the Jews. Stephen's death and the Apostle James death did not cause such a scandal. Was it because James the Just had been revered among the Jews as a man of holiness before his conversion to the New Covenant and his seeming defection had not lessened the respect for holiness that this Nazirite had enjoyed in the Jewish community?

 

The most complete description of James the Bishop of Jerusalem is found in the writings of Hegesippus, a man who lived within the shadow of the Apostolic Age of the Church. Hegesippus writing between c.155-180AD (although some scholars date his writings earlier in the 2nd century), was one of the Church's earliest chroniclers. As a Jewish Christian his view of early Christian Church history is unique since he looks at the Church from the same vantage point as the Jewish first Bishop of Jerusalem. Hegesippus seems to have traveled widely and therefore must have visited many of the apostolic churches in the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. The majority of his work has not survived the ravages of time but what does survive gives witness to his Catholic spirit of orthodoxy and his understanding of the obligation of the New Covenant Church to carry the message of salvation beyond the people of the Old Covenant and out to the Gentile nations. His sketches of the fathers of the early Church from surviving fragments from his five books of commentaries titled The Acts of the Church are descriptive and intriguing, like his description of James, brother of the Lord and the first Bishop of Jerusalem in which he not only identifies James the brother of Jesus as the first Bishop of Jerusalem but also provides the information that James, like John the Baptist was "holy from his mother's womb" and like John abstained from both eating meat and drinking wine: "James, the Lord's brother, succeeds to the government of the Church in conjunction with the Apostles. He has been universally called 'the Just,' from the days of the Lord down to the present time. For many bore the name of James; but this one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank no wine or other intoxicating liquor, nor did he eat flesh' no razor came upon; his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, nor make use of the bath. He alone was permitted to enter the Holy Place: for he did not wear any woolen garment, but fine linen only. He alone, I say, was wont to go into the Temple: and he used to be found kneeling on his knees, begging forgiveness for the people'so that the skin of his knees became horny like that of a camel's, by reason of his constantly bending the knee in adoration to God, and begging forgiveness for the people. Therefore, in consequence of his pre-eminent justice, he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek 'Defense of the People,' and 'Justice,' in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him" [fragments from Hegesippus' Five Books of Commentaries on the Acts of the Church, Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 8, page 762. Also see: Eusebius, Church History, 2.23.5 quoted in The Early Church Fathers volume I page 79].

 

St. Jerome was so impressed with Hegesippus description of James the Just that he paraphrased Hegessipus' description in his book Lives of Illustrious Men: "Hegesippus who lived near the apostolic age, in the fifth book of his Commentaries, writing of James, says, ' After the Apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. He alone had the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not use woolen vestments but linen and went alone into the temple and prayed in behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels' knees.' He says also many other things, too numerous to mention." Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. 2: Jerome: Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter II (written c. 492AD), page 361.

 

Question: Did you notice a serious misquote by Jerome of Hegesippus' account of James' association with the Temple in Jerusalem?

Answer: Hegesippus wrote that James was permitted to enter the Holy Place but Jerome changes this sacred space to the Holy of Holies.

 

It is inconceivable that James was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter this sacred space once a year at the Feast of Yom Kippur [Feast of Atonement]. Most scholars dismiss Jerome's statement concerning this special privilege and rightly so. However, what Hegesippus wrote has a ring of truth. Not being Jewish and being four centuries removed from any real Jewish influence in the Church, Jerome may not have understood that there were two holy spaces. The Holy Place was part of the Temple sanctuary where the Golden Menorah, the Golden Table of Shewbread [also called the "bread of the Presence"] and the Golden Altar of Incense were kept. The Golden Altar of Incense stood in front of a curtain at the back of the space which separated the Holy Place from cube shaped space known as the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was the most sacred space in the Temple and which at one time contained the Ark of the Covenant, the box upon which God's physical presence rested. After the sin of the Golden Calf only the High Priest was permitted to enter this sacred space once a year on the Feast of Atonement. Jerome's confusion of these two spaces shows a lack of understanding of Jewish customs and Old Covenant ritual.

 

While it is highly unlikely, near to impossible is perhaps a better phrase, that James would have been permitted into the Holy of Holies, it is possible that before his conversion to the New Covenant faith and even afterwards that he was permitted, like the priests and Levites of the Old Covenant to enter the Holy Place. Only the Levitical priesthood was allowed in this space to perform their ministerial duties and the faithful Old Covenant believers were only allowed to enter if celebrating a communion sacrificial meal with family and friends, known as a Toda in Hebrew or Eucharistia in the Greek, a "Thanksgiving" in English [Leviticus 7:11-15; Feast of Faith, Joseph Ratzinger]. There is one exception that would allow a man who was not a hereditary Levite the unique privilege of perform services for Yahweh in the Holy Place. This may be more evidence that James the Bishop was not one of the original 12 but was a completely orthodox Jew in accord with the Temple authorities before his life was completely transformed by his encounter with the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth. What unique position could James have occupied that would have allowed him access to the sacred spaces of the Temple?

 

Question: Hegesippus recorded that James neither shaved, or drank wine, and only wore linen garments. What is the significance of this description? Hint: see Numbers 6:1-21.

Answer: Hegesippus' description of James suggests that he had taken a life time Nazarite vow.

Question: What great Israelite Nazariate served as a judge over Israel in the book of Judges? What great Old Testament prophet/judge in the book of 1 Samuel was a Nazarite from his mother's womb and served God as a priest even though he was not a hereditary Levite? Hint: see 1 Samuel 1:11; Judges 13:5-7, 14; 16-17.

Answer:

1.      The Israelite hero Samson, who lived during the period of the Judges of Israel, was a Nazarite from his mother's womb.

2.      The last great judge of Israel from the period of the Judges and God's devoted prophet, Samuel, was a life time Nazarite who was adopted by the High Priest Eli. Samuel was Israel's chief religious leader prior to and during most of the reign of King Saul. It was Samuel who at God's command anointed the child David as King of Israel.

 

The ministerial priesthood of the Old Covenant was hereditary, passed from father to son, but if a man or a woman was called by God for a special service they could take a Nazarite vow for a period of time to fulfill the vow or for a lifetime of service dedicated to Yahweh. Anna, the widow the holy family met at the Temple when Jesus was dedicated in the Gospel of Luke 2:36-38 may have been Nazirite. Anna "never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer."

 

Question: According to Numbers chapter 6 what three requirements had to be fulfilled by the man or woman who took the Nazirite vow?

Answer: For the period of the vow the Nazirite:

1.      could not cut his or her hair

2.      could drink no fermented liquids

3.      must avoid the ritual impurity of coming in contact with the dead

 

The hair uncut showed an unrestrained comment to ones vow, only allowing divine power to act in him and confidence in God's promise of strength to fulfill it. Samson's long hair was his God ordained strength [see Judges 13:5-7, 14; 16:17]. The abstention from fermented drink signified that the Nazirite's acceptance of a life of service as opposed to a life of ease [see Jeremiah 35:5-8], and the third abstention showed that like a priest the Nazarite was to live a life of strict outward ritual purity that signified an inner purity of heart [for ritual purity of priests see Leviticus 21:1-2, 10-11]. There were temporary vows, such as the vow in Amos 2:11-12 and Acts 18:18; 21:23-26, or a child could be dedicated by his mother as in the case of Samson and Samuel [Judges 13:1-6 and 1 Samuel 1:9-11], or a vow could be for life [1 Samuel 9:11;Judges 13:7]. Both the strict ritual purity and the wine abstinence reflect the requirements of the priesthood, a priest in service at the Temple could not drink wine or other fermented liquid.

 

Hegesippus also mentions that James never shaved, or anointed himself with oil, or bathed. It seems unsavory to imagine our saintly James as never bathing and indeed it is most unlikely that this is what Hegesippus intended to suggest. A righteous Jew had to ritually bath on numerous occasions and he had to wash his hands before and after meals. Ritual cleansing was part of one's religious observances. It is more likely that Hegesippus, himself a Jew and a Christian, was making the point that James gave up all the physical pleasures of life. That he didn't shave would be part of the Nazirite vow not to cut one's hair. Anointing oneself with oil was a luxury in such a climate, remember the three times our Lord was lovingly anointed with oil once by the sinful woman [Luke 7:37-38], and twice by Mary sister of Lazarus [#1: John 12:3 (feet on Saturday before the crucifixion); #2: Mark 14:3 (head on Wednesday before the crucifixion at the home of Simon the Leper; Matthew 26:6-12 (head on Wednesday before crucifixion at home of Simon the Leper)]. As for bathing, ritual bathing in the holy water of a mikveh was part of the observances of a righteous Jewish man or woman, it wasn't for pleasure and the water was unheated. Perhaps Hegesippus meant that James did not bathe for pleasure but only in accordance with ritual purification. Mary would have bathed in accordance with the Law in a mikveh when she took her son to the Temple in Jerusalem to be dedicated to Yahweh as a firstborn [Luke 2:22-24; Leviticus 12:2-4, 6, 8]. It was the requirement that anyone entering the holy city of Jerusalem had to ritual bathe and be purified, ritual purification would have been the practice of an orthodox Jew before the Sabbath, and for those serving daily in the Temple. It is more likely that this description of James points to his aesthetic nature and his desire to separate himself from the lure of worldly pleasures in his desire to seek holiness in God's sight. For more information on the Nazirites see the appendix at the end of this lesson.

 

Question: According to Hegesippus there are some interesting parallels between John the Baptist and James. What are the similarities between the two men? See Matthew 3:4; Luke 1:15, 14-15.

Answer: Like John the Baptist, James did not eat meat [Matthew 3:4], like John the Baptist James did not drink wine or fermented liquids [Luke 1:15], and according to Hegesippus James, like John was consecrated from the womb to the service of Yahweh [Luke 1:14-15]. But John the Baptist was not a Nazirite. He was a descendant of Aaron and a hereditary priest; although these esthetic eating restrictions could link both John and James to an even more conservative group like the community at Qumran [see this discussion at the end of this lesson].

 

Question: Hegesippus also mentions that James wore only linen garments. What is the significance of his dress? Hint: see Exodus 28:1-43; 39:1-31

Answer: The ministerial priesthood only wore linen garments. James wore linen as a sign of the new priesthood that he served as Christ's representative to the New Covenant people but he may also have worn linen garments if he served in the Temple prior to his ordination as Bishop of the New Covenant Church in Jerusalem.

 

Hegesippus' testimony that suggests James had taken a Nazirite vow, and the wearing of only linen garments could indicate that James was a lifetime Nazirite who served in the Temple. The Jewish priest/ historian Flavius Josephus who was born circa 37AD and who was therefore in his late 20s when James was martyred wrote that James was greatly revered by the Jews for his holiness, even going so far to suggest that James' murder led to God's judgment on the Temple authorities and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans. For a Jew to comment so favorably and for Hegesippus to testify that James had access to the Holy Place, one wonders if James had enjoyed a position of great respect among the Jews as a man of great orthodoxy before his life altering experience of coming face to face with the resurrected Jesus and embracing the New Covenant Law of the Gospel of salvation? Flavius Josephus wrote more about James and his murder by the Jewish High Priest than he wrote about Jesus or John the Baptist [Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3; 18.5.2]. Imagine what it meant when such a man as James the Just the orthodox and holy Jew embraced the new movement. The conversion of such a man of holiness would have had a great impact on the Jews. Perhaps this is why James was chosen to be the leader of the New Covenant Church of Jesus Christ in the center of the nucleus of the Old Covenant world. It would be James who would lead the faithful Jewish remnant from the homeland while Peter led the campaign to embrace the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Was it his influence which produced the large influx of the priesthood into the New Covenant? Acts 6:7 records: "The word of the Lord continued to spread: the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increased, and a large group of priests made their submission to the faith."

 

There is another bit of intriguing information found among the writings of the Fathers of the early Church. Hegesippus and the early Church historian Epiphanes, Eusebius, and Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus [circa 125-196AD; St. John the Apostle had been the Bishop of Ephesus] record that three Jewish-Christian bishops, James, Bishop of Jerusalem, Mark the Evangelist, Bishop of Alexandria, and the Apostle John, Bishop of Ephesus wore a crown on their miters similar to the sacerdotal plate worn by the Jewish High Priest: Epiphanes wrote of James that he wore "the shining plate (petalon lumina) of the Jewish high priest.". According to Exodus 39:30-31 the High Priest was required, as a sign of his holy office to wear a golden ban with the words: "consecrated to Yahweh." [see Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, volume1, page 163 & 242; Church History, Book III, chapter 31.3; Epistle of Irenaeus to Victor, XXIV.3; Epiphanius, Heresies, LXXVII.14; Polycrates quoted by Eusebius, Church History, III,3l1, V.24].

Question: What would the wearing of such a device by these Jewish-Christian bishops suggest? What is the symbolic significance?

Answer: The golden plate of the Jewish High Priest was called in Hebrew the ziz. If what these early Christian bishops wore is a device that suggests a Jewish High Priests badge of office then these men fully understood that even though they were not of the hereditary priesthood that the higher order of the New Covenant priesthood had replaced the Old Covenant priesthood and that all authority rested with the Apostles and their representatives, the bishops of the universal kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Church which was the new Israel.

 

In Hegesippus' description of James he refers to the bishop by the title "Oblias: "Therefore, in consequence of his pre-eminent justice, he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek 'Defense of the People,' and 'Justice,' in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him."

In the opinion of many scholars Hegesippus' reference to James' title "Oblias" {Greek} appears to be a reference to the Hebrew word "Ophel," meaning "a rising ground", which is the name given to the fortified defensive ridge of Mount Zion in Jerusalem in 2 Chronicles 27:3. Writing of the improvements made to the city of Jerusalem by King Josiah the inspired chronicler writes: "It was he who built the Upper Gate of the Temple of Yahweh and carried out considerable work on the wall of the Ophel."

 

Question: If the Greek word "oblias" is indeed meant to be the Hebrew word "ophel", what does the title "Ophel" applied to James, Bishop of Jerusalem by the New Covenant Jewish Christians suggest?

Answer: Perhaps that James the Just "shored up" or "held in place" the Old Covenant people, supporting them as they came into the New Covenant in Christ.

 

The first century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews wrote that James the Just was held in such high regard by the Jews of Jerusalem, Christian and non-Christian Jews alike, that the heinous act of his brutal murder sometime between 62 and 69AD led to the demand of the dismissal of the high priest who had ordered his execution and to God's judgment which resulted in the destruction of the city by the Roman army in 70AD. [Origen the 2nd century Christian scholar and leader of the school of theology in Alexandria, Egypt dates James' martyrdom to 69AD while Jerome in the 4th century adopted Josephus' calculation of 62AD. Origen repeated Josephus claim that James death resulted in a great judgment on Jerusalem in Against Celsus (AD 185-254 Origen) Chapter XLVII: "that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called the Christ), the Jews having put Him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice."

 

 

THE ROLE OF JAMES THE JUST IN THE NEW COVENANT CHURCH

 

Of the several passages that refer to James Bishop of Jerusalem and kinsman of Jesus in the New Testament, two passages in Acts of Apostles reflect the depth of his influence in the early Church. The first is the central role he played in the first great council of the Universal Church, known as the Council of Jerusalem in 49/50AD.

 

The Jewish Christians began to feel threatened by the great influx of Gentiles into the Church from the Roman provinces in Asia Minor. Jews from the Jerusalem church, falsely representing themselves as emissaries of James of Jerusalem, visited the thriving Gentile Christian community in Antioch, Syria and caused an uproar when they announced that there was no salvation for them unless in addition to baptism there was added the Old Covenant sacrament of circumcision and adherence to the Law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas who were members of this faith community were outraged. The elders of the community decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem and to take the dispute before the Apostles and the Elders of the Church. At issue was this: did a Gentile have to convert to Judaism first before becoming a Christian? Please read Acts 15:1-21.

 

 

When the dispute was brought to the attention of the Apostles they called a general council of all the Church leadership. St. Peter, as Christ's Vicar spoke first.

Question: In consultation with the Apostles and the elders of the Church what did Peter propose?

Answer: He forcefully argued that it was unproductive to the spread of the Gospel and asked why "put a yoke upon the necks of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" Relying on his personal revelation in connection with the conversion of the Gentile Roman officer Cornelius [see Acts chapter 10], Peter concludes that it is grace by which the baptized believer is saved and therefore circumcision and the Law itself have become irrelevant and have been superseded by the Gospel and faith in Christ Jesus.

 

St Paul certainly agreed with Peter's view when he wrote in Galatians 2:15-16 "We who were born Jews and not gentile sinners have nevertheless learnt that someone is reckoned as upright not by practicing the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ; and we too came to believe in Christ Jesus so as to be reckoned as upright by faith in Christ and not by practicing the Law: since no human being can be found upright by keeping the Law."

 

Question: What position did St. James take?

Answer: James, Bishop of the New Covenant Church in Jerusalem which is hosting the council, supported Peter.

 

Question: James uses Scripture to support Peter's position, it is an indication of his knowledge of Scripture and prophecy. What Old Testament prophet does James quote and what is the significance of this passage? Hint: see the Book of the Prophet Amos, especially chapter 9. Why is it necessary to read the whole chapter in which the Scripture reference is contained?

Answer: Whenever an Old Testament passage is quoted in the New Testament the inspired writer intends to reader to refer to the passage in context. James quotes the 8th century BC prophet Amos's prophecy concerning the gathering of the Gentile nations back into communion with Yahweh from Amos 9:11-12. Amos was a shepherd from Tekoa, a village in Judah about 5 miles southeast of Bethlehem. Amos was sent by Yahweh to the Northern Kingdom of Israel to warn the people that their religious formalism is empty of true devotion [5:21-27] and that God's judgment is coming [5:16-20]. It was a judgment that would result in the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and the scattering of the 10 Northern tribes into the Gentile nations of the Near East in 722AD. The passage James quotes concerns Amos's fifth vision and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem which occurred on the 9th of Ab in 587/6BC. God warns that He will "shake out the House of Israel among all nations" [Amos 9:9] but He also holds out the promise of redemption and restoration when He promises a "faithful remnant" will be preserved [Amos 9:8]. In Amos 9:11-15 God promises to rebuilt the "tent of David," a prophecy that is fulfilled in the establishment of the Davidic Kingdom through David's descendant Jesus of Nazareth and His Church which is the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, a kingdom made of "all the nations" that once belonged to Yahweh. In citing this prophecy James is linking the great influx of Gentiles into the Church as the fulfillment of Amos prophecy and the New Covenant Church's obligation, as God's representatives to facilitate the Gentile assimilation into to covenant. However, James does suggest that there should be some conditions for Gentiles to become candidates for baptism.

 

In Galatians 2:9 Paul identifies James and one of the "pillars of the Church" together with the Apostles Peter and John. St. James supported Peter but in order to conciliate the Jews who were still very attached to the old Law of Moses and to keep them from being scandalized by the morality of the Gentile converts he suggested that Christian converts from paganism should be required to fulfill the requirements of the ancient Noachide law that Yahweh imposed on all peoples of the earth in Genesis chapter 9. He wisely knew the Jews would not argue with this compromise.

 

Question: What were the four conditions that James suggested catechumens observe prior to baptism and why did James propose that Gentile candidates for baptism observe these restrictions?

Answer: He suggests that the Gentiles abide by the Noachide Law of Genesis chapter 9 which was to be observed by all men at a time before there was distinction between Jew and Gentile. These laws include:

1.      abstaining from food sacrificed to idols [idolatry],

2.      avoid sexual immorality [to abstain from illicit marriages probably means marriages that would be considered incest].

3.      eating the meat of strangled animals [not having been bled], and from consuming blood [see Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-12; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23],

He also suggested that a letter concerning the judgment of this council be sent, along with their representatives, to the churches in Asia Minor.

 

Question: Historically what is significant about the decision of this council and the Apostolic decree they sent out with their representatives to the churches in Asia Minor?

Answer: The Apostolic Decree issued by this council represents the teaching authority of the Church as found in the Magisterium which consists of the Bishop of Rome and the Bishops of the Universal Church and bears witness to the fact that there was from the very beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ a clear teaching authority who, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, had the power to decide on all questions dealing with faith and morals. See CCC # 880-885.

 

The next passage that gives us a unique glimpse into character and personality of James is found in Acts 21:15-26. In this passage St. Paul has just arrived in Jerusalem bringing a large monetary contribution from the Gentile faith communities in Asia Minor and Greece to the faith community in Jerusalem. It is probably in the spring of 58AD that Paul made this pilgrimage to the holy city. In Acts 20:16 St. Luke, who is Paul's disciple and traveling companion on this journey, records that it was Paul's desire to be in Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost which is celebrated in April/May, fifty days after Resurrection Sunday. Pentecost was one of the Sinai Covenant "pilgrim" feasts for the Old Covenant people which celebrated the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai and which every man of the covenant had to be present at the Temple in Jerusalem. During a "pilgrim feast" the city of Jerusalem, which numbered about 100,000 inhabitants would swell to perhaps 2,000,000 faithful; the Feast of Unleavened Bread during which the Passover sacrifice was eaten and the Feast of Tabernacles were the two other "pilgrim feasts".

 

For Christians this feast of Pentecost now celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit to the New Covenant people of God and the birth of the New Covenant Church [see Acts chapter 2; and see the chart "The Seven Sacred Feasts of the Old Covenant" in the Old Testament portion of the Charts section]. To celebrate this feast in Jerusalem would have been a very special occasion for the New Covenant faithful like Paul and his companions.

 

Please read Acts 21:15-26.

Question: Upon arriving in Jerusalem, who does Paul immediately go to meet?

Answer: He had an audience with St. James, the Bishop of Jerusalem and the elders/Christian priests who are under James' authority.

Question: After Paul has given his report on the growth of the Church among the Gentiles what additional good news concerning the growth of the Church among the Jews does James share with Paul and his delegation? See Acts 21:20 and also Acts 6:7 and 15:5.

Answer: St. James reports that "thousands of Jews have how become believers, all of them staunch upholders of the Law..."

Question: Why was it more likely that the orthodox Old Covenant men and women, both from the priestly class and from the Pharisees, would come to faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah and embrace the New Covenant in Christ?

Answer: The orthodox Jews are the men and woman who knew the Scriptures and the promises of the prophets. They would have recognized the prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth and therefore would have come more readily to believe in Jesus as the promised Messiah just as faithful New Covenant believers who are well versed in sacred Scripture will be the ones who will recognize the prophesized signs of the Second Advent of the Messiah.

 

Question: But James also presents a problem St. Paul has caused among the orthodox Jewish-Christian converts. What is that problem? See Acts 21:21

Answer: Paul is the source of scandal because many Jews have heard that Paul is instructing all Jews to break away from the Law of Moses and has been authorizing Jews to cease from circumcising their boy children, which has been a covenant obligation since the time of Abraham [see Genesis 17:9-15; Exodus 12:47-51].

Question: According to Genesis 17:14 and Exodus 12:48 what is the penalty for disobedience to the covenant command to circumcise all males?

Answer: Failure to observe the rite of circumcise would prevent entrance into the covenant with God established through Abraham and continued in the corporate covenant established at Mt. Sinai. Any man-child not circumcised would be "cut off" from his people until his foreskin had been "cut-off" and the children borne to him, male and female would also be separated from the covenant people unless they submitted to conversion through obedience to the commands of God. Circumcision was a necessary sacramental rite for entrance into the covenant of Yahweh and for participation in those sacraments like the Feast of Unleavened Bread when the Passover sacrifice was eaten.

 

Question: What this charge made against Paul true? What is the connection between circumcision and the New Covenant? To assist you with you answer, please read Deuteronomy 10:14-22; Jeremiah 4:4; 9:24-25; 31:31-34; Romans 2:12-29; 3:19-20; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:3; CCC# 536 & 1026. Notice that in Romans 2 Paul repeats the word "Law" 12 times and the word "circumcise" and "uncircumcised" 10 times [may only be reflected in the literal Greek translation and not in your English translation].

Answer: Yes, Paul taught that circumcision was only an outward sign of what God desired as an inward condition, a circumcised heart. This is what God had promised as a gift of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34. In 30AD the Holy Spirit fell upon the New Covenant believers at the second great Pentecost as they were gathered in the Upper Room 10 days after the Ascension of Christ, praying with the Apostles, the disciples, and with Mary and Jesus' "brothers." God the Holy Spirit baptized the New Covenant believers with fire, circumcising their hearts. Paul understood that the Old Law of Moses was good and necessary in its time but now it had been replaced by something better. The moral law of the 10 Commandments remained, elevated to a higher standard as Jesus taught in the New Law of the Sermon on the Mount, but the Old Covenant sacraments like circumcision, animal sacrifice for sins for restoration of communion with God, and the ritual purification rites had been replaced by the sacraments of the New Covenant instituted by Christ. The first sacrament of initiation into the Covenant is no longer circumcision, it is now Christian Baptism in which children and adults become members of the family of God through the circumcision of their hearts and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through the "washing" by water and the spirit. In addition, the Old Covenant ritual purity rites and animal sacrifices were now replaced by the exercise of the other sacraments of the New Covenant Law established by Jesus Christ. Paul was teaching that if the Jews hung on too tightly to what was fulfilled and no longer necessary in the Old Law they would fail to fully grasp what we the best that God had given them in the New Covenant Law of freedom from an Old Law that only convicted them of sin and could not give them the New Covenant gift of eternal salvation.

 

Question: What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach about the Old Covenant Law? See CCC # 1961-1964; 1967-68.

Answer:

1.      The Old Law was the first stage of the revelation of divine Law; it was meant to be a tutor and a guide to prepare the covenant people to live lives of holiness

2.      The Old Law was imperfect because it could not offer eternal salvation

3.      The Old Law was the preparation for the Gospel. Though the Law of the Sinai Covenant and the writings of the Prophets the covenant people would be able to recognize the Messiah when He came and to be in a state of holiness to receive Him and His message of eternal salvation.

4.      The New Covenant Law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ "fulfills, refines, surpasses, and leads the Old Law to its perfection [CCC# 1967]."

 

Question: James and the elders have obviously discussed this situation [see Acts 21:23]. What request does St. James ask Paul in order to convince the Jewish-Christians that Paul is not rejecting the Law of Moses and in order to avoid a riot? See Acts 21:22-24 and Numbers 6:14-21.

Answer: In James' congregation there are 4 men who have taken a temporary Nazirite vow. When a vow has been fulfilled the man or woman who has made the vow must cut their hair, which has been allowed to grow without being cut for the length of the time it took to complete the vow, and present the hair at the Temple where the hair must be burned on the holy sacrificial Altar to Yahweh in the courtyard of the Temple complex along with an animal sacrifice: "This is the ritual for the Nazirite on the day when his period of vow is completed. He will be led to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, bringing his offering to Yahweh: an unblemished male yearling lamb as a burnt offering, an unblemished yearling ewe lamb as a sacrifice for sin, and unblemished ram as a peace offering (communion offering), and a basket of unleavened loaves made of fine flour mixed with oil, and of unleavened wafers spread with oil, with the cereal offerings and libations appropriate to them" Numbers 6:14-15. James asks Paul to bear the expense for these Nazirites.

 

This is no small expense! Paul must pay for:

1.      4 ritually perfect male lambs to be entirely burnt up on the Altar

2.      4 ritually perfect female lambs as a sin sacrifice which after having been roasted on the Altar the Old Covenant priests will eat.

3.      4 rams to be roasted on the Altar and then eaten by the offers and their families in the Holy Place as a communion offering

4.      along with 4 times the unleavened bread and wine to accompany the sacrificial meal.

5.      4 appropriate cereal offerings and wine libations for the Altar sacrifice.

 

Question: How does Paul view the Old Covenant Temple? What did Paul teach concerning the New Covenant Temple of God? See Acts 7:28; 17:24. For Paul's teaching see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21; Hebrews 9:6-14.

Answer: The Temple in Jerusalem is a sign of the Old Covenant. Our bodies have become the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Question: Do you think Paul sees this act of fulfilling a vow made to God in the Temple in Jerusalem as necessary to the New Covenant faith? See Acts 18:18.

Answer: In Acts 18:18 Paul had fulfilled a vow he had made and at the completion of his vow he shaved his head. He did not go to Jerusalem to shave his hair and burn it on the sacrificial Altar at the Temple because Paul realized that old Temple was connected to the Old Covenant and that the body of each Christian believe was now the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Question: What is Paul's response to St. James' suggestion?

Answer: He submits to James' suggestion that he sponsor the 4 Nazirites.

Question: If Paul does not believe this ritual has any validity why does he submit?

Answer: He is being obedient to James, Bishop of Jerusalem.

 

There are two significant points to be made here. The first is Paul's submission to the authority of the bishop and the second is James' great attachment to the Old Covenant Temple and its rites. The orthodox Old Covenant people of God were understandably very attached to the Law of Moses and the Temple. These were the laws and signs of covenant fidelity that had guided them for over a thousand years. The majority of Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome addresses the division between Gentile and Jewish Christians over these issues. This is why Paul wrote in Hebrews 9:8 that before the New Covenant could fully be established the Old Covenant Temple, "the tent" or "tabernacle" had to fall or the faithful remnant of Israel would be hindered from fully embracing all that was promised them as blessings in the New Covenant in the blood of Christ. The Old Covenant animal sacrifices were invalid, to participate in them denied the power of the one complete sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. He was now our true and only High Priest as well the King of Kings and the center of our New Covenant temples, our bodies which were filled with the life of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

 

Some Jewish-Christians could not accept that the Old Covenant was fulfilled. Eventually they broke away from the Church, accepting Jesus as the Messiah but rejecting the Gentile evangelism and forming a community known as the Ebionites. God in His mercy gave the Old Covenant people 40 years to make the journey into the New Covenant in Jesus Christ and to receive the promise of salvation in the Promise Land of Heaven. It was the same period of time He gave their ancestors in their desert journey. On the 9th of Ab, 70AD the Roman Army of Titus destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. In the heat of the fire the golden ornamentation on the roof of the Temple melted into the cracks of the stones. After the fire had subsided the Roman soldiers poured water over the stones to break them apart in order to retrieve the gold. It was just as Jesus had prophesized in Matthew 24:1-2: "Jesus left the Temple, and as he was going away his disciples came up to draw his attention to the Temple buildings. He said to them in reply, 'You see all these? In truth I tell you, not a single stone where will be left on another: everything will be pulled down."

 

James' mission as Bishop of the largely Jewish New Covenant people of Jerusalem was extremely difficult. He had to gently bring the faithful remnant of the Old Covenant into the New Covenant in Christ. His extreme piety to the Old Law had gained for him the title "James the Just" among his Old Covenant brethren and his kinsman link to Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus' private Resurrection appearance to him gave him a credibility that could not be matched by others within the New Covenant faith community. His conversion to the New Covenant must have had a tremendous impact on the Jews of Jerusalem, leading many priests and even Pharisees into the New Covenant faith [Acts 6:7; 15:5; 21:20].

 

James' position of respect among the Jews leads some scholars to ask if James of Jerusalem might have been the "Teacher of Righteousness" who was the leader of the community of Qumran, located approximately 16 miles from Jerusalem and the site of the discovery of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls are copies of multiple Biblical texts and other documents that are dated to between 250BC and 68AD. There seems to have been two "Teachers of Righteousness" mentioned in the writings of the community, one earlier in the history of the community and another who served the community as leader prior to the Jewish Revolt of 66AD. It is also possible the "Teacher of Righteousness was a title that was passed down from leader to leader. Dead Sea Scroll scholar Robert Eisenman is one of those scholars who is convinced that James "the Righteous" first Bishop of Jerusalem is also the Teacher of Righteousness of the Qumran community. Dr. Eisenman, professor of Middle East Religions and Director of the Institute of the Study of Judea-Christian Origins at California State University, Long Beach, sees connections not only between the descriptions of James the Bishop and the Qumran leader but also parallels in the Letter of James and the community documents which are believed to be written/ influenced by the community leader. Dr. Eisenman writes: "The known details regarding James' life and position are not inconsiderable. In many ways we have more independent documentation concerning him than any other New Testament character, except perhaps Paul. [...]. James was a Righteous Teacher-type, and even a casual perusal of the documents at our disposal testifies to the integral connection of the Righteousness-ideal to his person. The letter associated with his name is saturated with what should be called the works/Righteousness approach, as opposed to more Pauline/Hellenistic "free gift of Faith"/ "Grace" doctrines. For the author of James, it is unquestionably Righteousness which, to use the terminology of 1QpHab [1 Qumran Habakkuk Pesher], viii2, and xii14'"saves", just as it is for the author of 1 QpHab and the Qumran Hymns." The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians, page 116-117.

 

Dr. Eisenman's point is well taken. There are a number of comparisons that can be made between the last "Teacher of Righteousness" and St. James:

1.      Both men were titled as "Just" or "Righteous", in Hebrew zaddik.

2.      Both men stood in opposition to the religious authorities at the Temple in Jerusalem

3.      Both men identified themselves as a "teacher" [see James 3:1-2]

4.      Both men were murdered by what the Qumran community called "the Wicked Priest"'the High Priest of the Jerusalem Temple.

 

The community at Qumran saw the priestly authority at Jerusalem as corrupt and invalid, and they were anxious for the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy of a coming New Covenant [Jeremiah 31:31-34]. In their official document outlining the goals of the community, entitled "The Damascus Document" by modern scholars, the key words, "new covenant" are used 5 times. This community would certainly have found the New Covenant established in the Gospel of salvation preached by Jesus a welcomed and in some cases, a familiar message. Scholars have also speculated that John the Baptist may have been associated with this community since the baptismal site he used on the Jordan River was within walking distance of the Qumran community and John and James seemed to have the same preference for abstinence from eating meat as a sign of their commitment to holiness. This fasting from meat would not have included the eating of Temple communion sacrifices but would have included all other ordinary meat, a sign of a rejection of earthly pleasures in favor of eternal promises just as some visionaries have lived only on the "sacrificial meat" of the Eucharist. The theology of the community at Qumran seems to have in some ways paralleled the early Christians as reflected in the copies of Old Testament books found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is an amazing coincidence that the top 10 Old Testament books found at Qumran are nearly the same top 10 of the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament and in nearly the same order. In the Appendix please see the chart comparing the top 10 copies of Old Testament books found at Qumran to the top 10 Old Testament books quoted in the New Testament.

 

Simon-Peter was in the great city and capital of the Roman Empire known as "Roma" by her citizens, establishing that city as the hub of the Christian movement to conquer the world for Jesus Christ by spreading the Gospel message to every corner of the Roman Empire. Early Church historians record that Peter was 7 years in Antioch, Syria and 25 years in Rome, capital of the Roman Empire. St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred on the same day circa 64-67AD in the pagan city that was destined to one day be called the Eternal city and home of the Universal Catholic Church. When James was martyred by the order of the Temple High Priest Ananus, sometime between 62 or 68AD, both Jews and Christians demanded the removal of the High Priest from his office. It was a request the new Roman prefect obliged. Surely this man James the Just was deeply respected not only by Christians but by Jews. We cannot be certain of a connection to the faith community at Qumran. There is no physical evidence that places James the Righteous Teacher of Jewish Christians with the Teacher of Righteousness at Qumran, but there is an intriguing artifact. It is a broken clay scroll jar made at Qumran and designed for shipping scrolls. Unlike the other jars this one has holes to tie the lid to the body of the jar and on the neck of the jar in two places in Hebrew is the word "ROMA!" [jar discovered in Qumran cave 7; Eyewitness to Jesus, Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew D'Ancona, page 110].

 

Whether or not James was indeed the Teacher of Righteous who was murdered, like James the Bishop, by the "Wicked Priest" [the title the Qumran community gave the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem] cannot be proved but it cannot be denied that the faithful remnant of Israel that was the church in Jerusalem grew vigorously under James' leadership: "You see, brothers, how thousands of Jews have now become believers, all of them staunch upholders of the Law..." was James, Bishop of Jerusalem's testimony to St. Paul and his companions on their visit to Jerusalem circa 58AD. Scripture and secular documents support James' claim. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus recorded that there were about 5,000 Pharisees in Judea prior to the revolt against Rome in 66AD. Acts 2:41 records that about 3,000 men came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah after Peter's great homily at Pentecost in c. 30AD, later that number swelled to include a large group of priests [Acts 6:7], and still later the number swelled to 5,000 men [Acts 4:4], with Christians at that time equal in numbers to the Pharisees in Judea. One can imagine the concern and consternation of the Old Covenant authority which stood in deadly opposition to the New Covenant faith, lead by the group of Galileans known as Simon-Peter and "the Twelve" and locally governed by James the Just, kinsman of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

 

DATING THE LETTER OF ST. JAMES

 

Scholars do not agree as to which James mentioned in the Bible wrote the Letter of St. James nor do they agree as to the date it was written. Some scholars place the writing of the document prior to the Council of Jerusalem in 49/50AD while others place it after the council and still others who do not believe James the Bishop wrote the letter, place its composition to the 2nd century AD. The Letter of James also had some difficulty being accepted into the canon of New Testament Scripture. James' letter seems to have been revered by the Catholic communities in the East where Church fathers quoted from it in their letters. Origen [185-253/4AD], the great Biblical scholar of the Christian school of theology in Alexandria, Egypt, quotes St. James as inspired Scripture. However, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea in the early 4th century observed that the Letter of St. James was still contested as inspired Scripture by some bishops, the Letter of James was not quoted in the earliest documents of the West. It was not included in the list of the New Testament books known as the Muratorian canon, a list compiled circa 155/200AD, probably in Rome. As far as the universal letters are concerned the Muratorian document includes both the letters of St. Peter I, and St. Jude and two letters of St. John [although not the 3rd letter and not 2 Peter], and John's Revelation. It is possible that James' letter simply was not widely circulated in the West and therefore was not widely quoted simply because it was not available to early Church Bishops and scholars outside of Asia Minor. The Letter of St. James was not accepted into the canon of the Universal Church until the mid to late fourth century AD.

 

The problem with dating James' Letter to the universal Church is that there are no internal clues as to when it might have been written as there are in St. Paul's letters. There are no references to historical events nor are there references to people known to history which might help date the letter. St. Paul mentions both Roman officials and makes allusions to certain historical events like Emperor Claudius' expulsion of Jews and Christians from the city of Rome that give a fairly accurate guide to dating a number of his 14 letters. However, the event of the first universal council of the Church known as the Council of Jerusalem may be a useful clue in dating James' letter. This first Great Council is not mentioned in the James' letter nor is there any mention of the controversies that were central to that council, nor is there any mention of the decisions that were reached and sent out to the Church in Asia Minor in the Church's first Apostolic decree referenced in James' letter. The complete absence of any reference to the issues discussed and decided upon at the Jerusalem council leads some scholars to conclude that since the issue of Gentile inclusion into the covenant remained a hot topic for debate from circa 49AD, when the Jewish-Christian delegation from Jerusalem visited the church in Antioch, Syria [Acts 14:19-28], until after the Church became predominantly Gentile, sometime between 73 - 100AD, it is more reasonable to assume that James wrote his letter while the New Covenant Church was still largely Jewish, and so the letter must have been written fairly early, say sometime after Jesus' Resurrection in 30AD but not later than 49/50AD, the year the church at Antioch, Syria sent Paul and Barnabas to confer with the Apostles concerning the requirements for Gentile converts.

 

There are also scholars who take the position that St. James' letter was written prior to St. Paul's letters to the Galatians [circa 54AD] and to the Romans [circa 58AD]. They believe that those letters reflect a disagreement between James' doctrine of the necessity of good works in the plan of salvation and Paul's doctrine of salvation by faith alone, especially the passages in Galatians 2:16; 3:2,5 & 11; and Romans 3:20-31. Other scholars take the opposing view and see James' letter as a polemic opposed to Paul's doctrine of justification by faith. It cannot be denied that St. James' letter presents a firm obstacle to Martin Luther's theory of justification by "faith alone." Luther so disliked the Letter of St. James that he labeled it "an epistle of straw" and would have liked to have stricken it from the New Testament canon, but he didn't dare to take that step. While Luther added the word "alone" to the text of Romans 3:28 so that his translation read: "We hold that a man is justified by faith alone apart from works of the law", it is James' letter that completely refutes Luther's doctrine of justification by being the only book in the New Testament to use the literal words "faith alone." James wrote: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" James 2:24. But Paul's letters can hardly be a polemic against James or visa versa since neither inspired writer mentions the other, and it has always been a teaching of the Church that Holy Spirit inspired text cannot refute another text but only support it. In fact, James and Paul are in complete agreement concerning the doctrine of justification. Paul's concern is for the Old Covenant "works of the Law" [Romans 2:12-13, 25-29; 3:19-26; etc.], like the Old Covenant sacrament of circumcision and other rites which are the legal ritual embodied in the 613 articles of the Old Law, many of which no longer have any validity [according to the Council of Jerusalem] because the New Law of Jesus Christ has circumcised the hearts of believers [Jeremiah 31:31-34] and has established covenantal purity through claiming His sacrificial death and resurrection. Paul writes that justification cannot come through works of the Old Covenant Law which was incapable of offering salvation and could only identify sins, but he clearly teaches in Romans 2:6-10 that the works of God applied to the life of the believer is necessary for salvation and that God will judge everyone according to his or her works: "He will repay everyone as their deeds deserve. For those who aimed for glory and honor and immortality by persevering in doing good, there will be eternal life; but for those who out of jealousy have taken for their guide not truth but injustice, there will be the fury of retribution. Trouble and distress will come to every human being who does evil---Jews first, but Greeks as well; glory and honor and peace will come to everyone who does good, Jews first, but Greeks as well. There is no favoritism with God."

 

Paul defines the necessity for faith working through love [see Galatians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11], and that the "good work" of loving one's neighbor fulfills the old ritual Law [Romans 13:8]. Paul defines faith as the initial step in one's journey of salvation and James affirms the link between genuine faith and the moral behavior of good deeds that flow from a heart attuned to God once grace has been conferred. Paul defines this initial grace in terms of "first justification", or the union with God that is the result of the initial grace that leads one to faith and faith to baptism by water and the Spirit and a life time of continually turning to God and away from sin. Never in James' letter when he speaks of good works does he mention "works of the law"'he only writes of works that flow from the living, active faith of a sanctified believer [also see Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 22:19; the Catechism of the Catholic Church #s 1987-2005].

The format of the letter also presents some problems for scholars. The Letter of St. James does not have the customary formal outline of a letter written in the 1st century AD. St. James' letter only has a very short address and greeting. Unlike the letters written by St. Paul, after the greeting there is no introduction/thanksgiving nor is there a closing and farewell at the end of the epistle. Compare the format of James' letter to Paul's letter to the Romans:

Paul's Letter to the Romans

The Letter of St. James

Address and greeting: Romans 1:1-7

Address and greeting: James 1:1

Introduction/thanksgiving prayer: Romans 1:8-15

Body of the letter: James 1:2-5:20

Body of the letter: Romans 1:16-15:3

 

Conclusion and greetings: Romans 15:4-16:15

 

Farewell and postscript: Romans 16:17-27

 

 

Instead of reading like a formal 1st century letter, James' letter reads more like a homily that was copied and sent out to the various Jewish Christian communities in the Gentile world. In its form it is similar to the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, which is attributed to St. Paul and which also reads like a homily. Like the other ancient document attributed to St. James known as The Protoevangelium of James, and like the Letter to the Hebrews but unlike the Gospels or the other New Testament letters, James' letter to the universal Church is written in excellent koine Greek, which has caused some scholars to insist that a man raised in the humble circumstances of 1st century Galilean society could not have written this document. But a Galilean would be more likely than a Judean to have a good understanding of Greek. The neighboring province was comprised of 10 Hellenistic cities known as the Decapolis in which Greek was the principle dialect. The Galilee had a diverse populating. It was at the crossroads between east and west with the great Via Maris, the road known as "the Way of the Sea" passing directly through the Galilee with travelers passing from Egypt up through the Galilee and on the Asia Minor. Then too, Nazareth was only five miles from the regional capital Sepphoris, a largely Gentile city in which Greek, not Latin, and not the local Aramaic was the international language. Or like St. Paul, it is possible that the Bishop of Jerusalem availed himself of the services of a well educated secretary to transcribe his letters and possibly his homilies. There were well educated Jewish and Gentile Christians who were members of the early Church. One leader of the Christian community at Antioch, a Jewish Christian named Manaen [Acts 13:1], was a man educated in the royal school of the Herodian princes, and Jewish scribes and members of the Levitical priesthood, like St. Matthew the former tax collector, were not only well educated in the Scriptures but studied the international language that is the common Greek of the New Testament documents, as well as being versed in an ancient form of shorthand known as oxygraphos or tachygraphos .

 

Oxygraphos and tachygraphos are the Greek terms for a scribal shorthand that was in use in ancient times. The Hebrew term for this form of writing is sofer macher. Scribal shorthand writing was a compulsory skill for the trained scribe. The Apostle Matthew-Levi would have had knowledge of tachygraphos which would have made it easy for him to transcribe Jesus' longer homilies like the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7. The technical term oxygraphos must have been commonly used among Jews who were fluent in Greek. In the modern translations of Scripture the 'expert scribe of Psalms 45:1-2 [New Jerusalem Bible] or "skilled writer of the Revised Version Bible translation is in the Greek Septuagint translation an "oxygraphos" a synonym for the tachygraphos, or shorthand writer. In Ezra 7:6 the translator used the term grammateus tachys to describe the expertise and qualification of Ezra. [see The Secretary in the Letters of Paul, E. R. Richards and Eyewitness to Jesus, Carsten Thiede and Matthew D'Ancona].

 

Biblical scholars do agree that the recipients of the Letter of St. James and the two letters of St. Peter, the letter of St. Jude, and the three Letters of St. John are unlike the targeted audience of St. Paul's letters. St. Paul's letters were to particular faith communities or to individuals but these other letters, by the end of the second century, were given the title "universal" or "catholic" because they are "universal" in their address to the faithful who compose the Church worldwide. Among these "catholic" letters James' letter stands out in its approach to unite the Old Covenant definition of righteousness to the New Law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. James skillfully uses the teachings of the "wisdom" literature so dear to 1st century Jews and illuminates those teachings by the light of the Sermon on the Mount to bring the faithful remnant of Israel into the light of the New Covenant which he believes is the destiny of the New Israel, the Universal Church.

 

APPENDIX:

TOP 10 OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE BOOKS DISCOVERED AMONG THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS AT QUMRAN AND THE TOP 10 OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE BOOKS QUOTED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Old Testament books at Qumran

Numbers of copies

Old Testament books quoted in the New Testament

Number of times quoted

1. Psalms

34

1. Psalms

79

2. Deuteronomy

27

2. Isaiah

66

3. Isaiah

24

3. Deuteronomy

54

4. Genesis

20

4. Exodus

44

5. Exodus

14

5. Genesis

39

6. Leviticus

9

6. Minor Prophets

30

7. Daniel

8

7. Leviticus

17

8. Minor Prophets

8

8. Daniel

5

9. Jeremiah

6

9. Jeremiah

5

10. Ezekiel

6

10. Proverbs

4

List curtsey of Biblical Archaeology Society: Dead Sea Scroll Seminar, Chicago, October 2002

 

THE VOW OF THE NAZIRITE

 

"Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 'Speak to the Israelites and say: If a man or a woman wishes to make a vow, the Nazirite vow, to vow himself to Yahweh, he will abstain from wine and fermented liquor, he will not drink vinegar derived from one or the other, he will not drink grape juice or eat grapes, be they fresh or dried. For the duration of his vow he will eat nothing that comes from the vine, not even juice of unripe grapes or skins of grapes. As long as he is bond by his vow, no razor will touch his head; until the time for which he has vowed himself to Yahweh, he will not go near a corpse, he will not make himself unclean for his father or his mother, or his brother or his sister, should they die, since on his head he carries his vow to his God. Throughout the whole of his vow he is a person consecrated to Yahweh." Numbers 6:1- 8

 

The word Nazirite (can also be spelled Nazarite) is from the Hebrew term nazir, meaning "to consecrate" and is derived from the Hebrew root nazar, meaning "to separate". The man or woman who took the Nazirite vow took an oath to separate himself or herself from the world and even from close kinship affiliation to serve only Yahweh (Numbers 6:2), making the Nazirite totally "holy unto Yahweh" (Numbers 6:8). In terms of separation from one's family in service to Yahweh the term nazir is used of Joseph son of Jacob/Israel in Genesis 49:26 and in Deuteronomy 33:16, and therefore the special service of a Nazirite may predate the Sinai Covenant:

 

If the call of the Nazirite existed before the Exodus event, it is defined, regulated, and expanded as part of the Law of the Sinai Covenant, allowing one who is not a hereditary member of the ministerial priesthood through the line of Aaron to offer special service to Yahweh. The vow of a Nazirite could be a special service performed for a certain length of time or the vow could tie the Nazirite to a lifetime of service. According to the requirements of a Nazirite in Numbers 6:1-21 for the period of time of the vow the man or woman Nazirite must:

  1. Make a formal swearing of an oath of service to God [Numbers 6:2]
  2. Abstain from drinking wine and fermented liquor, including vinegar derived from either wine or any fermented liquor, and will abstain from eating grapes fresh or dried or eat anything that comes from the vine [Numbers 6:3-4].
  3. Let his hair grown uncut for the length of the vow [Numbers 6:5]
  4. For the entire period of the vow he must not come in contact with a corpse. He is to remain ritually clean and cannot defile his ritual cleanliness even in the event a parent or sibling dies [Numbers 6:7].

 

In the order of the Nazirite there is not only the concept of separation and consecration of an individual to God but also the concept of ministerial service, and perhaps a link to the royal priesthood as found in the High Priest's vow of service. The Hebrew word nezer, from the same root as the word nazir , which also means "consecrated" is inscribed on the holy crown worn on the mitre of the High Priest [Exodus 29:6; 39:30; Leviticus 8:9], on the "crown" of the holy anointing oil used to sanctify people and objects to Yahweh [Leviticus 21:12], and later in the days of the monarchy the term is applied to the royal crown of the Kings of Israel [see 2 Samuel 1:10; 2 Kings 11:12; Zechariah 9:16]. Therefore, in the order of the Nazirite there is the combined concept of:

  1. separation
  2. purity in holiness
  3. the "crown" of the royal priesthood

All three aspects closely connected to the oath of service to God above all other functions in life, each aspect corresponding to the Nazirite's oath of service:

  1. Abstaining from wine and all products of the vine separate him or her from normal social occasions and the lure of temporal luxury and excess and is perhaps a reminder of the "fruit" that led man into sin in the Garden of Eden. The abstention from fermented drink signified that the Nazirite's acceptance of a life of service as opposed to a life of ease [see Jeremiah 35:5-8].
  2. Separation from the corruption of death accentuates his or her holiness and the attachment to that which is incorruptible.
  3. Not cutting the hair, the "crown" of one's head becomes a visible sign of the Nazirite's sworn oath and consecration to Yahweh who is his or her strength. The hair uncut showed an unrestrained comment to ones vow, only allowing divine power to act in him and confidence in God's promise of strength to fulfill it. Samson's long hair was his God ordained strength [see Judges 13:5-7, 14; 16:17].

 

The swearing of a lifetime oath allowed a man to serve God without the necessary bloodline of Aaron to link him to ministerial service in the Temple. The requirements of the Nazirite are in fact similar to those of the Levitical priesthood. A priest had to abstain from wine during his period of service in the Sanctuary and he was to avoid all defilement from coming in contact with the dead except in the case of his nearest relatives. The difference is that the Nazirite's vow imposed a more sever obligation in that the Nazirite had to abstain from wine and all products of the vine for the entire length of his oath; like a High Priest he could not even bury his parents [Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 6:7]; and he could not cut his hair for the length of the vow. Like the ministerial Levitical priesthood the Nazirites were permitted to assemble within the precincts of the Temple and were provided with their own special enclosure known as the Nazirite's Chamber..

 

According to the Mishnah [Naz. vi], the oral tradition of the Old Covenant people, if a Nazirite took an oath of service for an indefinite period of time the vow lasted for 30 days, which was the shortest possible period of time for a Nazirite vow. There were also perpetual Nazarites, like Samson and Samuel. The Mishnah distinguishes between lifetime or perpetual Nazirites who were ordinary perpetual Nazirites and Samson-Nazirites. Both classes of Nazirites were for life, but the ordinary perpetual Nazirite could be defiled by coming in contact with the death and was allowed to occasionally shorten his hair provided he made the necessary sacrifices. But the Samson-Nazirite, like the hero Samson in the Book of Judges, can not trim his hair and is allowed to come into contact with the dead without incurring ritual defilement, thus allowing a Samson-Nazirite to serve as a warrior [Judges 15:15].

 

Like a priest a Nazarite was to live a life of strict outward ritual purity that signified an inner purity of heart [for ritual purity of priests see Leviticus 21:1-2, 10-11]. There were temporary vows, such as the vow in Amos 2:11-12 and Acts 18:18; 21:23-26, or a child could be dedicated by his mother as in the case of Samson and Samuel [Judges 13:1-6 and 1 Samuel 1:9-11], or a vow could be for life [1 Samuel 9:11;Judges 13:7]. Both the judge Samson [Judges 13:5-7; 14; 16-17] and the prophet/judge/priest Samuel [1 Samuel 1:11] were consecrated as Nazirites from the womb.

 

When a Nazirite completed a vow he was to cut his or her hair and present the locks of hair, which represented the duration of the oath of service, at the Temple in Jerusalem where it was to be burned on the sacrificial Altar with animal and grain sacrifices. The sacrificial requirements for a completed vow were an expensive undertaking and often wealthy Jews would sponsor a poor Nazirite who had completed a vow. The required offerings are described in Numbers 6:13-21:

  1. a ritually perfect male lambs to be entirely burnt up on the Altar
  2. a ritually perfect female lambs as a sin sacrifice which after having been roasted on the Altar the Old Covenant priests will eat.
  3. a ram to be boiled and then eaten by the offers and their families in the Holy Place as a communion offering
  4. along with unleavened bread and wine to accompany the sacrificial meal.
  5. the appropriate cereal offerings and wine libations for the Altar sacrifice and the sacrificial meal.

In addition to the "ram without blemish" for the communion (peace) offering, the Nazirite had to provide a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine wheat flour mixed with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil in addition to the regular meat offering and wine libation [Numbers 6:14, 15]. The Mishnah explains how and in what proportions the unleavened bread that accompanies the communion sacrifice was to be prepared and that all was to be offered in one vessel. The sin offering [which the offerer could not eat but would be eaten by the priests] was the first sacrifice presented, then the holocaust sacrifice which would be wholly consumed in the fire of the Altar, and finally the sacrifice which was the communion or peace offering, which reestablished fellowship with Yahweh after He had accepted the offerer's atonement for sins in the sin sacrifice.

 

According to the Mishnah, after the required animal, grain and wine sacrifices, had been offered by the priest the Nazirite withdrew to the Nazirite's chamber which was located in the Court of the Women. There the peace offering cut up and was boiled in a cauldron and cutting off the hair that had remained unshorn during the length of the vow, the hair was then thrown into the fire under the cauldron. The priest then "waved" the offering as it is described in Numbers 6:19 & 20, and the fat was salted and burned upon the holy sacrificial Bronze Altar in the courtyard of the Temple. The breast of the sacrificed animal, the fore-leg and the boiled shoulder of the peace offering as well as the waved cake and wafer of unleavened wheat flour belonged to the priests. The loaves of unleavened bread and the remaining meat of the communion sacrifice were eaten by the Nazirite and his friends and family.

 

In Acts 21:18-26, James the first Christian Bishop of Jerusalem requested that St. Paul, as a sign of good faith and solidarity with his Jewish brethren, sponsor 4 Nazirites who had completed their vow period: So the next day Paul took the men along and was purified with them, and he visited the Temple to give notice of the time when the period of purification would e over and the offering would have to be presented on behalf of each of them." Paul in obedience to James submitted to a Old Covenant ritual which no longer had any real meaning in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ for every Christian had now been consecrated to accepting a lifetime vow of service in the royal priesthood of believers who received the sacrament of baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. The Latin word sacramentum is translated as "oath". In the Sacraments we swear our oath of consecrated service to the Most Holy Trinity and claim that one perfect sacrifice that is ours for all time and eternity. In the Book of Hebrews, St. Paul writes:"He says first You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the cereal offerings, the burnt offerings and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to do your will. He is abolishing the first sort to establish the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ made once and for all." Hebrews 10:8-10.

 

In this sense all New Covenant believers serve God as perpetual Nazirites who are not defiled by death for our Savior has conquered death. In our vow of holiness we offer our lives as a living sacrifice in service to Christ: "I urge you, then, brothers, remembering the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated and acceptable to God; that is the kind of worship for you, as sensible people. Do not model your behavior on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and mature." Romans 12:1-2

 

APPENDIX:

And in Church History, Book IV chapter 5 Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea in Palestine writes concerning the succession of the Bishops of Jerusalem: "The chronology [dating] of the bishops of Jerusalem I have nowhere found preserved in writing; for tradition says that they were all short lived. But I have learned this much from the writings, that until the siege of the Jews, which took place under Adrian [135AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian] there were fifteen bishops in succession there, all of whom are said to have been of Hebrew descent, and to have received the knowledge of Christ in purity, so that they were approved by those who were able to judge such matters and were deemed worthy of the episcopate."

Note: Eusebius is referring to the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome which was brutally suppressed in 135AD. The First Jewish Revolt took place from 66-73AD and resulted in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the deaths of over a million Jews and the enslavement of circa 55,000 Jewish men, women, and children. After the Second Revolt the city of Jerusalem was raised to the ground and then rebuilt as a Roman city and renamed Aelia Capitolina. Jews were forbidden all access to the holy city but Christians were not penalized because they did not participate in either revolt and Christian persecution diminishes for a time under Hadrian.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

 

Next week we will begin our study of the Letter of James, chapter 1. To prepare for next week I suggest that you allow yourself to be guided by an ancient scholar and a modern scholar. Please read St. Ephraim's advice on the study of Scripture in the "Documents and Resources" section of Agape Bible Study and the advice by a great modern scholar:

ADVICE ON THE STUDY OF SACRED SCRIPTURE:

An excerpt from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's famous Erasmus lecture of January 27, 1988. His conclusions concerning Biblical exegesis remain an important guide for the study of sacred Scripture: "Finally, the exegete must realize that he does not stand in some neutral area, above or outside history and the Church. Such a presumed immediacy regarding the purely historical can only lead to dead ends. The first presupposition of all exegesis is that it accepts the Bible as a book. In so doing, it has already chosen a place for itself which does not simply follow from the study of literature. It has identified this particular literature as the product of a coherent history, and this history as the proper space for coming to understanding. If it wishes to be theology, it must take a further step. It must recognize that the faith of the Church is that form of "sympathia" without which the Bible remains a closed book. It must come to acknowledge this faith as a hermeneutic, the space for understanding, which does not do dogmatic violence to the Bible, but precisely allows the solitary possibility for the Bible to be itself." [Joseph Ratzinger is now our beloved Pope Benedict XVI].

 

Technical terms applied to the study of sacred Scripture:

Resources used in this lesson:

1.      One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, Kenneth D. Whitehead

2.      Catechism of the Catholic Church

3.      Ante-Nicene Fathers, volumes 2, 4, 7, & 10.

4.      Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, volumes 1, 3, 6, 11

5.      Church History, Bishop Eusebius

6.      Church History, Father John Laux, M.A.

7.      The Anchor Bible: The Letter of James, Luke Timothy Johnson

8.      Sacra Pagina: James, Father Patrick Hartin

9.      Navarre Bible Commentary: Catholic Letters

10.  The Faith of the Early Fathers, William A. Jurgens

11.  Strong's Concordance

12.  The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians, Robert Eisenman

13.  The Works of Josephus, Flavius Josephus

14.  Christianity and the Roman Empire, Ralph Martin Novak

Copyright © Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.