does the new testament disagree about whether James was faithful?

Still reading The Empty Tomb

The post originally entitled ‘was James always a good guy? (part 1)’ has been deleted – its contents are distributed among this post and the previous one, with material that reflects a corrected understanding of the relevant arguments.

We’re looking now at whether Price can provide any evidence that, even in the NT, there is a growing legendary tradition that venerated James. If there isn’t, his theory won’t be able to ease the pressure against it from the lack of manuscript evidence.

What does he offer us? Only two passages.

“Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it [Luke 8:19-21].”

“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers [Acts 1:14].”

Now perhaps he didn’t intend this to be an exhaustive case, but still, if these are the best two he can find, I wonder how weak the other examples must be.

Price is possibly reading Jesus’ words in Luke 8:19-20 as an affirmation like “you see my mother and my brothers over there? They hear the word of God and do it!” …but is that really Jesus’ intent in this passage? I think obviously not. Jesus is saying something more to the effect of “my real mother and my real brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

This meaning is explicitly conveyed in the extended parallel accounts in the other synoptics (Mark 3:31-5, Matthew 12:46-50) which are frank enough to make Jesus appear even disrespectful to his family. Since it’s generally believed that Luke used Mark as a source for his gospel, it is unlikely that Luke would be unaware of this. It certainly wouldn’t have been on his mind to use the very material which, if anything, puts James in a bad light, to vindicate him.

What of the Acts passage? The passage occurs in the post-resurrection narrative. So it is not at all useful for showing that there was a competing ‘pro-James’ tradition in the gospels that posited him as ever faithful.

His case looks very weak. There is no reason at all to suppose that James’ resurrection encounter was merely invented, and the lack of manuscript evidence is as pressing as ever. Next we’ll look at his argument for why the Corinthians tradition is a composite of rival traditions, one backing Peter, the other James.

More to come…


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