Did Luke write the epistle of James?

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Irish1975
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Did Luke write the epistle of James?

Post by Irish1975 » Fri Sep 11, 2020 4:32 pm

Who wrote the epistle of James? Few seem to think it was the James of Galatians, of Josephus, or of later tradition.

A case can be made that it was the author or circle of authors who wrote Luke-Acts, and who probably wrote the Pastorals and one or more of the other general epistles. A primary reason I think this proposal has merit is that this author or circle, "Luke," expresses the point of view that defines the "editorial concept" of the whole New Testament (see Trobisch, The First Edition of the New Testament). And the epistle serves that concept very well. Very roughly, the concern of the NT is to reconcile various "Judaizing" interpretations of Jesus with the gospel of Paul (More on this later.)

The Greek of James is highly polished and educated, steeped in both LXX and Greco-Roman tradition. So is Luke's. Also, the general epistles were originally bundled together with Acts, and come down to us that way in the manuscript tradition. The sequence in our modern Bibles was established in the Byzantine era. Furthermore, Acts presents James writing an encyclical letter to various churches in the diaspora. These are relevant facts even though none of them point directly to Lukan authorship.

From Acts 15 and Galatians 1 & 2, an early reader of the NT would want to know more about James. He is a leading pillar of the church of God, and also "brother of the Lord." But he doesn't figure much, except negatively, in the Gospels. He also seems to represent a Jerusalem-based community of Jesus followers who maintained Jewish identity and Torah observance, with whom Paul seems to have struggled mightily about the necessity for believers in Jesus Christ to follow Mosaic traditions (and the Mosaic covenant itself). For Luke and his 2nd-century contemporaries, James is therefore a highly charged figure, both positive and negative, who represents the countervailing pull of the Jewish foundations of the new faith and indeed the Jewish origins of the savior himself. For the Jews were not a popular group in Luke's time!

The motivation to write an authoritative epistle "from James" is therefore strong for Luke.

1) Affirm James' witness to "the Lord Jesus Christ" (1:1, 2:1).
2) Re-package the teachings of Jesus that Luke has already published in his gospel (the well-known James/G parallels).
3) Present James as someone who, at the end of the day, was so completely over the controversies about the gentiles and Mosaic observance that he had nothing to say about them at all.
4) Voice a religiously pragmatic dissent from possible extreme interpretations of Paul's doctrine of salvation by faith alone, but not in ways that Christians would interpret as "Judaizing." Notice that James speaks positively and at length about "the law," just as Paul does, and about "works/deeds", but not about "works of the Law."
5) Show, by means of 4), that James recognized Paul's apostolic legitimacy, albeit indirectly.
6) Reaffirm Luke's concern for the poor.
7) Recapitulate in positive (and anti-Marcion) terms the ethical and theological simplicity of Judaic traditions (Leviticus 19, prophets, writings) that was so attractive to hellenistic pagans in the first place, long before Jesus and continuing into Luke's own time.

Luke would also want to present a believable portrait of James, warts and all. Hence this epistle's silence on Pauline ideas (atonement, resurrection, Holy Spirit) is consistent with other unflattering NT portrayals of James. gJohn flat out calls the brothers of Jesus "unbelievers" (7:5).

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Re: Did Luke write the epistle of James?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Fri Sep 11, 2020 5:20 pm

Voice a religiously pragmatic dissent from possible extreme interpretations of Paul's doctrine of salvation by faith alone, but not in ways that Christians would interpret as "Judaizing." Notice that James speaks positively and at length about "the law," just as Paul does, and about "works/deeds", but not about "works of the Law."
It is true that this distinction exists ("works" versus "works of the law") between the Pauline epistles and the epistle of James:

Romans 3.27-28: 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we reckon a man to be justified [δικαιοῦσθαι] by faith [πίστει] without works of the Law [χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου].

James 2.14-18: 14 What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith [τὴν πίστιν σου] without the works [χωρὶς τῶν ἔργων], and I will show you my faith [μου τὴν πίστιν] by my works.”

But it is also true that the epistle of James seems to flatly contradict the epistle of Paul to the Romans on how Abraham was justified:

Romans 4.1-3: 1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works [εἰ γὰρ Ἀβραὰμ ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη], he has something to boast about; but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham had faith in [ἐπίστευσεν] God, and it was reckoned to him as justification.”

James 2.20-22: 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without the works [ἡ πίστις χωρὶς τῶν ἔργων] is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works [Ἀβραὰμ ὁ πατὴρ ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη], when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.

If these were two independently formulated epistles, I might be convinced that there existed a harmonization between them. But I do not think that these two epistles are independent. One is correcting the other precisely on this point.

When we come to Acts, then, is the following original?

Acts 13.38-39: 38 Therefore let it be known to you, men, brethren, that through this One forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you [γνωστὸν οὖν ἔστω ὑμῖν, ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, ὅτι διὰ τούτου ὑμῖν ἄφεσις ἁμαρτιῶν καταγγέλλεται], 39 and from all things from which you were not able to be justified in the Law of Moses [καὶ ἀπὸ πάντων ὧν οὐκ ἠδυνήθητε ἐν νόμῳ Μωϋσέως δικαιωθῆναι], in this One everyone who has faith is justified [ἐν τούτῳ πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων δικαιοῦται].

If it is original, then Acts is putting on Paul's lips some decently Pauline rhetoric about faith and works in a way that I believe the author of the epistle of James almost certainly would not. If it is not original, then this objection to your idea would not count.

What do you think?

ETA: Fixed an issue with the quote from Acts 13. Had botched a textual issue from Bezae.
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Sat Sep 12, 2020 1:01 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Did Luke write the epistle of James?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Fri Sep 11, 2020 5:30 pm

Another observation (since the relationship between Acts and the NT epistles is of great interest to me).

Acts routinely has its characters address people as ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί ("men, brethren"). James in the epistle calls his readers just plain ἀδελφοί ("brethren"), never using the compound expression ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, so common in Acts. Is there anything to this trend?
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Re: Did Luke write the epistle of James?

Post by Irish1975 » Fri Sep 11, 2020 6:33 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Fri Sep 11, 2020 5:20 pm
But it is also true that the epistle of James seems to flatly contradict the epistle of Paul to the Romans on how Abraham was justified:

Romans 4.1-3: 1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works [εἰ γὰρ Ἀβραὰμ ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη], he has something to boast about; but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham had faith in [ἐπίστευσεν] God, and it was reckoned to him as justification.”

James 2.20-22: 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without the works [ἡ πίστις χωρὶς τῶν ἔργων] is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works [Ἀβραὰμ ὁ πατὴρ ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη], when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.

If these were two independently formulated epistles, I might be convinced that there existed a harmonization between them. But I do not think that these two epistles are independent. One is correcting the other precisely on this point.
If you're saying that the author of James was responding directly to Romans and Galatians, I agree. Indeed, I see "Luke" as the final editor of the whole NT.
When we come to Acts, then, is the highlighted portion original?

Acts 13.38-39: 38 Therefore let it be known to you, men, brethren, that through this One forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you [γνωστὸν οὖν ἔστω ὑμῖν, ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, ὅτι διὰ τούτου ὑμῖν ἄφεσις ἁμαρτιῶν καταγγέλλεται], 39 and from all things from which you were not able to be justified in the Law of Moses [καὶ ἀπὸ πάντων ὧν οὐκ ἠδυνήθητε ἐν νόμῳ Μωϋσέως δικαιωθῆναι], in this One everyone who has faith is justified [ἐν τούτῳ πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων δικαιοῦται].

Some important textual witnesses are lacking it.

If it is original, then Acts is putting on Paul's lips some decently Pauline rhetoric about faith and works in a way that I believe the author of the epistle of James almost certainly would not. If it is not original, then this objection to your idea would not count.

What do you think?
Again, what's the problem if Luke makes Paul sound like Paul in Acts and, writing "as James," expresses disagreement with Paul in James? In general he is so cool to Paul in Acts that he gives him almost a completely different profile from the image of Paul in the epistles. But if, on the other hand, he brings a little of Romans into the Paul of Acts, that would just be for purposes of verisimilitude.

Sorry for having it both ways! But that's Luke. He's Mr. Flexible. Or rather, if he is part of the scheme of editing a diverse body of scriptures, contradiction is no vice.

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Re: Did Luke write the epistle of James?

Post by Irish1975 » Fri Sep 11, 2020 6:37 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Fri Sep 11, 2020 5:30 pm
Another observation (since the relationship between Acts and the NT epistles is of great interest to me).

Acts routinely has its characters address people as ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί ("men, brethren"). James in the epistle calls his readers just plain ἀδελφοί ("brethren"), never using the compound expression ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, so common in Acts. Is there anything to this trend?
By hypothesis, if Luke is writing scripture on behalf of multiple characters (Luke, Paul, James), is it any surprise if he deploys a different style, gives them different voices? Different rhetorical contexts, etc.

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Re: Did Luke write the epistle of James?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Fri Sep 11, 2020 6:55 pm

Irish1975 wrote:
Fri Sep 11, 2020 6:33 pm
Again, what's the problem if Luke makes Paul sound like Paul in Acts and, writing "as James," expresses disagreement with Paul in James?
Because James (the epistle) appears to misunderstand what Paul means by "works" (either that or he ignores the distinction completely), whereas the author of Acts, if that passage is his, lets us know that he understands exactly what Paul means by "works" (either that or, in this case, he makes the distinction).

It is not as if it is impossible that the same person could be responsible for both reactions to Paul; it just seems to me to be far more likely that there are actually two people having these two different reactions.

YMMV.
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Re: Did Luke write the epistle of James?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Fri Sep 11, 2020 6:56 pm

Irish1975 wrote:
Fri Sep 11, 2020 6:37 pm
By hypothesis, if Luke is writing scripture on behalf of multiple characters (Luke, Paul, James), is it any surprise if he deploys a different style, gives them different voices? Different rhetorical contexts, etc.
This is probably the correct answer, and he does exactly this in other ways in Acts. But... he does not do it with this particular expression in Acts; he puts it on James' lips, on Peter's lips, on random strangers' lips, and so on.
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Re: Did Luke write the epistle of James?

Post by Irish1975 » Fri Sep 11, 2020 9:01 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Fri Sep 11, 2020 6:55 pm
Irish1975 wrote:
Fri Sep 11, 2020 6:33 pm
Again, what's the problem if Luke makes Paul sound like Paul in Acts and, writing "as James," expresses disagreement with Paul in James?
Because James (the epistle) appears to misunderstand what Paul means by "works" (either that or he ignores the distinction completely), whereas the author of Acts, if that passage is his, lets us know that he understands exactly what Paul means by "works" (either that or, in this case, he makes the distinction).

It is not as if it is impossible that the same person could be responsible for both reactions to Paul; it just seems to me to be far more likely that there are actually two people having these two different reactions.

YMMV.
The James of the epistle does appear to be arguing against a distorted reading of Paul. But another way to interpret that is to say that he is arguing against a benighted disciple of Paul.

This is exactly the concern expressed in 2 Peter (also probably Lukan) about Paul: that people tend to misinterpret him. It could be seen as a motif taken from Galatians, where Paul rails against the brothers “from James.” For Luke, then, Paul and James routinely misunderstand each other through their intermediaries/disciples. Repetition of the same motif is common in Acts.

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Re: Did Luke write the epistle of James?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Fri Sep 11, 2020 9:06 pm

Irish1975 wrote:
Fri Sep 11, 2020 9:01 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Fri Sep 11, 2020 6:55 pm
Irish1975 wrote:
Fri Sep 11, 2020 6:33 pm
Again, what's the problem if Luke makes Paul sound like Paul in Acts and, writing "as James," expresses disagreement with Paul in James?
Because James (the epistle) appears to misunderstand what Paul means by "works" (either that or he ignores the distinction completely), whereas the author of Acts, if that passage is his, lets us know that he understands exactly what Paul means by "works" (either that or, in this case, he makes the distinction).

It is not as if it is impossible that the same person could be responsible for both reactions to Paul; it just seems to me to be far more likely that there are actually two people having these two different reactions.

YMMV.
The James of the epistle does appear to be arguing against a distorted reading of Paul. But another way to interpret that is to say that he is arguing against a benighted disciple of Paul.

This is exactly the concern expressed in 2 Peter (also probably Lukan) about Paul: that people tend to misinterpret him. It could be seen as a motif taken from Galatians, where Paul rails against the brothers “from James.” For Luke, then, Paul and James routinely misunderstand each other through their intermediaries/disciples. Repetition of the same motif is common in Acts.
So "Luke" is only pretending to misunderstand Paul in the epistle of James?
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Re: Did Luke write the epistle of James?

Post by Secret Alias » Fri Sep 11, 2020 11:07 pm

Acts misunderstand the conflict between Peter and Paul.
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