Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, and author of Biblical Prayer for Today's Believers: Transform Your Prayer Life.
Paul at Odds with James
My Jewish friend sent me a link to a Timeline video on YouTube. The title of the video is "Who Was The Real Jesus Christ?" According to the video, Paul and James preached two different messages about Jesus Christ: Paul taught that Jesus was born of a virgin, that people do not need to keep the Law of Moses (even Jews), and that Jesus was divine; on the other hand, James (the brother of Jesus) did not teach the virgin birth or the divinity of Jesus, but that Jesus followed the Law of Moses and taught others to do the same.
According to the documentary, the reason for their doctrinal differences was that James, the family of Jesus, and the disciples of Jesus had known Jesus himself, the historical Jesus; but Paul, however, had not known the real Jesus: instead, he had a vision of the resurrected Jesus. After his experience, Paul thought he knew more about Jesus than the other Apostles because of his vision, and so he preached a message that was different from the one preached by James and the church at Jerusalem.
The documentary concludes that Paul's version of Christianity prevailed because it was preached to the gentiles outside of Israel, where it was preserved after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD.
The Historical Sources
But what are the sources of documentary? What evidence does the documentary present? At 6 minutes and 50 seconds, the documentary (which lasts 49 minutes and 59 seconds on YouTube) tells us that the evidence is found in Paul's own letters and in The Acts of the Apostles, all of which are in the New Testament.
According to the documentary, Paul decided to spread his own version of the message instead of persecuting the church. In order to win more converts, he did not require them to eat kosher and be circumcised. Then, around 50 AD, James sent Peter with emissaries to Antioch to confront Paul for diluting the Christian message.
However, this interpretation of events is a misrepresentation of the picture presented by The Acts of The Apostles and Paul's epistles. For some reason (unbelief in the supernatural and adherence a naturalist view of life), the documentary overlooks all the evidence of a partnership between Paul and the church in Jerusalem.
Paul Rebuked Peter
First, the documentary makes much of Galatians 2:11-16, where Paul tells the church of Galatia that he rebuked Peter because he began to separate himself from the gentile believers after the envoys of James came to Antioch.
But Paul's rebuke does not need to be interpreted as a rift in the church: it can be interpreted as a mitzvah, or good deed. Professor Pinchas Shir explains this perspective in an article on the website of the Israel Bible Center. We should consider, therefore, that the documentary by Timeline is jumping to conclusions too quickly by assuming that Paul's rebuke of Peter indicated a rift in the church.
Also, it is quite possible that the false brethren Paul mentions in Galatians 2:4 did not represent James's views, but the views of a group within the Jerusalem church. After all, Paul tells the Galatians (Galatians 2:3) that, when he and Titus were in Jerusalem, Titus was not forced to be circumcised. From Paul's perspective, he and the church in Jerusalem agreed on this issue.
In fact, according to The Acts of The Apostles, Peter himself had been opposed by a group within the Jerusalem church for eating with uncircumcised gentiles (Acts 11:2-3), but the church concluded that gentiles could repent without the need of circumcision (Acts 10:45-48), which according to The Acts of the Apostles (also known as Acts) was Peter's own view (Acts 11:18).
For this reason, Paul writes to the Galatians that when he confronted Peter, he said to him, "If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law" (Galatians 2:14-16, KJV). Paul is not only telling us that he rebuked Peter, he is also telling us that he confronted Peter with Peter's own belief that obedience to the Law of Moses (together with circumcision) is not necessary for one to be a Christian. There really is no evidence in Paul's epistle of a doctrinal rift between him and the church leaders in Jerusalem.
In fact, Peter, a member of the church in Jerusalem, years later called Paul "beloved," and recognized Paul's epistles as part of the Bible, calling them scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16). If then the church in Jerusalem, where he had been a leader, did not agree with Paul, why does Peter endorse Paul? Even if it is not Peter, but Jude (the brother of James and of the Lord), who wrote 2 Peter, why would Jude endorse Paul if the church in Jerusalem disagreed with Paul? The reason is that the doctrinal rift is only a clever invention of the documentary.
Paul and The Church at Jerusalem
Second, the book of Acts does not indicate that Paul and the church at Jerusalem were at odds with each other over doctrinal matters, rather it indicates a partnership between Paul and the church's leaders in Jerusalem.
After Paul first came to Jerusalem from Damascus, the disciples in Jerusalem did not want to receive him because they were afraid of him. It was Barnabas who brought Paul to the Apostles (Acts 9:27). In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul tells us that, during this time, he stayed 15 days with Peter and met James (Galatians 1:17-19). Acts even tells us that, while Paul was with the Apostles (Peter and James), he kept coming in and going out of Jerusalem (Acts 9:28).
This expression in Acts, coming in and going out, is deliberate: it is a biblical expression (from the Tanach) that shows support for someone's leadership (Numbers 27:17, Deuteronomy 31:2, and 1 Samuel 18:13). Joshua and David themselves are said have come in and gone out before the people of Israel. Thus, Acts is telling us that Paul had the support of the Apostles: at least the support of Peter and James, whom he met at this time (Galatians 1:17-19).
Evidence of continued collaboration between the Jerusalem church and Paul is established in Acts, which tells us that Christianity spread to Antioch because the disciples that were fleeing Jerusalem shared the message as they traveled (Acts 11:19-20). The church at Jerusalem heard that there were many converts in Antioch, and therefore they sent Barnabas there (Acts 11:21-24). Now, Barnabas is the person who first introduced Paul to the Apostles (Acts 9:27), and after arriving to Antioch, he went to seek Paul, who had returned to Damascus from Jerusalem, and brought him back to Antioch with him (Acts 11:25-26).
Thus, Barnabas, himself an envoy of the church in Jerusalem, sought Paul to help him with the ministry: The Jerusalem church was most likely not opposed to Paul's ministry.
Note also that it is the disciples from Antioch who are credited with sending relief to Jerusalem by Barnabas and Paul. It was not Paul's project (as the documentary proposes), but an initiative of the disciples in Antioch (Acts 11:29-30).
The Jerusalem Council
Let us now discuss the Jerusalem Council.
According to the book of Acts, some men from Judaea came to Antioch and taught the Christians that they needed to be circumcised (Acts 15:1). However, neither the book of Acts nor Paul's epistle to the Galatians link these men to James: the documentary is making an assumption when it says that it was James who sent these men to Antioch.
Paul and Barnabas entered into a disagreement with these men; and, because of this disagreement, the church in Antioch determined to send Paul, Barnabas, and some of them to enquire of the Apostles and the elders in the church of Jerusalem about this matter. When they came to Jerusalem, Acts clearly tells us that Paul and Barnabas were received by the brethren, the Apostles, and the elders (Acts 15:4); but some of the Pharisees who believed did tell Paul and Barnabas that the gentiles needed to be circumcised and taught to keep the Law of Moses (Acts 15:5).
The Apostles and elders then met with Paul and Barnabas, and with these Pharisees, to consider the matter. There was much debate. Nevertheless, according to Acts, Peter and James agreed with Paul and Barnabas, and they sent a letter to the church in Antioch to tell them what they had decided on the matter and that the men who had come to impose circumcision and the Law on them had not been sent by them, although they had gone out from among them (Acts 15:7-35).
Thus, although there had been questions and debates about the issue of circumcision and observance of the Law, they had come to an agreement: there was no division between James and the Paul on the matter.
Paul Met with James
When sometime later Paul visited Jerusalem in Acts, he met with James and the elders (Acts 21:18-19). James and the elders told Paul that many Jews in Jerusalem had heard that Paul was teaching Jews to forsake the Law of Moses and to circumcise not their children (Acts 21:20-22). Therefore, they asked Paul to undergo purification so they could show that these reports about Paul were not true (Acts 21:23-26).
According to the book of Acts, the Jews that were from Asia recognized Paul when he was in the temple, and they stirred the people because they thought he had brought a gentile into the temple.
In support of Acts, Paul’s epistles do not teach Jews to stop observing circumcision and the Law of Moses (1 Corinthians 7:18-20). What Paul, James, Peter and the church in Jerusalem were teaching is that gentiles were not to be forced to be circumcised and obey the Law (a view that modern Jews share: as my friend has told me, Judaism does not require Gentiles to become Jews, but to observe the seven laws of Noah). On the other hand, Jews should continue to practice the Law.
In this post, I wanted to give my preliminary response to Timeline's documentary. The entire documentary is built on a hypothesis: that Paul and James held different views about Christ and his teachings. The documentary's hypothesis is built on this evidence: that we can see in Paul's epistles (particularly Galatians) and Acts that Paul and James were at odds with each other.
However, I have demonstrated that Galatians and Acts contradict the documentary's hypothesis. In Galatians, Paul is not at odds with James and Peter, although he did rebuke Peter as a mitzvah. In Acts, Paul and the Apostles are able to agree on doctrinal matters by communicating with each other, and they also collaborate with each other. In fact, I would say that the entire purpose of the book of Acts is to demonstrate that Paul and the Apostles in Jerusalem were being directed by God to collaborate with each other, and that what the Apostles began in Jerusalem, Paul continued abroad. There simply is no evidence for the rift described by the documentary: it is all just a theory.
Now that I have given you my initial response to the documentary, why I believe it does not hold, I want to invite you to read four articles that explain to you why the book of Acts is a trustworthy book of history: (1) Eyewitness News: The book of Acts; (2) Is the Book of Acts Reliable? (3) On the Historical Accuracy of The Book of Acts; and (4) When Was The Book of Acts Written? You will see that the book of Acts is actually a very reliable book of history, and that the only reason why the documentary chose to disregard is that the commentators assume they cannot trust its report.
Finally, I would like to invite you to check out this other video, which will give you further information that shows Paul and the Apostles were in agreement with each other, at least in regards to the essential doctrines of Christianity.
In order to deceive Eve, Satan did not lie to Eve about everything. The Father of Lies (as Jesus called Satan) mixed a lie with the truth: he told Eve that she would not die (the lie), and he told her a truth, that they would become like God (Genesis 3:4-5, 22). This made the lie sound more reasonable to Eve, so she decided to trust Satan and disobey God: the consequence was death for all humanity.
Timeline is following Satan's strategy. Their documentary is taking some events mentioned in Acts and in Paul's epistles, but it is mixing them with lies and disregarding the contexts that contradict the commentators' hypothesis. It is my hope that this post will help you understand that their perspective is unfounded.
© 2020 Marcelo Carcach