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…


did Paul preach a gospel from man or God?

Still reading The Empty Tomb

Robert Price’s argument that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is an interpolation begins with the claim that in context it contradicts Galatians 1:12.

Here are the relevant texts:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. [1 Corinthians 15:1-14]”

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. [Galatians 1:11-12]”

Price’s question is, did Paul preach a gospel he got from man, or God?

I think these passages are easily harmonised. By my lights the relevant claims of the passages are as follows:

1 Corinthians 15ff

1. Paul received the same tradition that he passed to the Corinthians.
2. The tradition contains the content of the gospel.

Galatians 1:11-12

1. The content of the gospel was not made up by man.

Is there any contradiction here? Not that I can see. It would be contradictory if there could be no distinction between the content/substance of the gospel and the form of its delivery. But I find it eminently plausible that Paul is able to make such a distinction.

Price is aware of this harmonisation and doesn’t think much to it. In response to the claim that Paul makes such a distinction between form and content, Price says the following,

“…are we justified in reading such a distinction into the text in the first place? Certainly the author of this passage does not draw it. Rather, for him, these are the very logia that will save if adhered to. 1 Corinthians 15:ff means to offer a formulaic ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints.’ And we seem to be in the presence of a post-Pauline Paulinism, not too dissimilar to that of the Pastorals (pg75).”

That is his only comment on this particular harmonisation. From what I gather then, Price thinks the author of verses 3-11 clearly intends the following creed to be the necessary gospel package – in form and content. He thinks the idea that this could be just one possible mode of expressing the gospel is foreign to the text.

Well, clearly the author considers the creed to be massively important. But why think this importance boils down to the necessity of the structure for personal salvation? The text certainly doesn’t say that. Are we to believe the author considers the tradition to be a magic formula without which one cannot be saved? That would be a particularly uncharitable reading of the author’s intentions. Why not think instead that the importance of the creed is in its preservation of the historical knowledge that can grant salvation? That is, not that the formula-form is itself salvific, but that it is important for preserving that which is salvific – the propositional content. Given that oral transmission placed a higher emphasis on substance over exact form anyway, this seems far more likely.

So this harmonisation remains the best reading of the texts. At the very least it isn’t implausible enough to warrant digging around for an interpolation theory instead.

More to come…

EDIT: Updated 12/08/2011 to reflect an increased understanding of the argument.