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The Mysterious Disappearance of Jesus and the Origin of Christianity

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(1997)


 

Chapter 2

The Existence of Rival Jesus Groups From the Beginning

According to Acts, Christianity begins with Jesus, then continues through the twelve, under whose leadership the whole congregation of Jesus followers was solidly united, and then expands from Jerusalem to Palestine and beyond. In order to project this view, Luke has to hide and distort a number of facts, which, however, can be recovered by critical analysis of Acts and of the gospels. This analysis shows that no single leadership, whether individual or group, inherited the Jesus movement. Rather, the Jesus story had a life of its own and from the very beginning Jesus movement consisted of different groups using Jesus for their purposes. There were at least three different and independent groups who had radically different views about Jesus. One of these groups believed that Jesus was a prophet who was executed in Jerusalem. This group knew neither of the resurrection nor of the messiahship of Jesus. A second group knew nothing of the execution of Jesus in Jerusalem but believed him to be the Messiah who was in exile, either in heaven or somewhere on earth. A third group was not much concerned with Jesus himself but with continuing his proclamation of the kingdom of God and his call to moral and ethical life. This last group believed in Jesus as a prophet or a teacher of wisdom and, although it is not clear what exactly they thought about the end of Jesus, it is probable that they neither believed in the execution of Jesus, nor in his ascension.

 

The seven and the twelve

Luke, the author of Acts, has done a fairly thorough job in suppressing the earliest history of the Jesus movement in order to project his idealized picture of unity and continuity in the early church. Yet as often happens in attempts to cover the truth, Luke himself has unwittingly left for us a narrow window through which a ray of light can be seen falling on the earliest history of the Jesus movement.

In Acts 6:1-6 we are told that the Hellenists (Jews speaking mostly Greek) complained against the Hebrews (those speaking mostly Aramaic) because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. The twelve leading disciples of Jesus from Galilee call a general meeting of the community and tell the people that they should not neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables or keep accounts and that the community should choose seven men for this latter task while the twelve should devote themselves to prayer and to ministering the word. The gathering agreed with this suggestion and so seven men, all with Hellenist names -- Stephen, Philip, Prochuros, Nicanor, Timon, Parnemas and Nicolaus, were selected by the community. The apostles then laid their hands on them and prayed.

At first sight this account seems creditable, but a closer examination raises a number of questions: Why were the widows of the Hellenists being neglected? It is implied that this neglect was being shown by the twelve or at least perceived to be so, since prior to the complaints they are the ones who appear to be taking care of the tables or the accounts. And why is it that when men other than the twelve are chosen to manage the food, they are all Hellenists? Why this division of work along linguistic lines: distribution for the Hellenists and ministry of the word for the Hebrews?

The problems become more serious if we look at what precedes (or does not precede) Luke's story of the neglected widows and what follows it.

The reference to the Hellenists appears abruptly. We are never told when and how these people joined the church. One may assume that they joined the church at the Pentecostal descent of the Spirit described in Acts 2 but this whole story itself is problematic (see below). This raises the possibility that the previous history of the Hellenists has been suppressed because it did not fit in Luke's picture of the origin and development of the church. This becomes almost certain when we look at what follows.

Soon after the report about the neglected widows of the Hellenists, Acts abruptly moves to the story of the arrest, trial and stoning of Stephen. The fact that neither Peter nor any of the twelve suffer any arrest or execution at this point shows that Stephen was involved in a mission separate from that of the twelve. This separate mission could hardly be the daily distribution of food in the community for which, according to Luke, Stephen with six other fellow Hellenists had been appointed before his arrest and trial. Also, during his trial Stephen makes a long speech. Nothing in that speech suggests that he was under the spiritual guidance of the twelve. In fact, Stephen expresses views that have no correspondence with the teaching of Jesus or to that of the twelve. Stephen rejects completely the temple cult while no such rejection is found in the teaching of Jesus as it can be gleaned from our sources. Quite to the contrary, in Matt 23:21 Jesus says: "whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it." This recognition that God dwells in the temple is exact opposite of what Stephen is saying. It is, however, not formulated in opposition to the Stephenite position but in opposition to some of the legal positions held by the scribes and Pharisees. The saying may well reflect the view of Jesus concerning the temple, even if it is not authentic. Also, in Mark 1:44, after healing a leper, Jesus tells him to "go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded" which assumes that Jesus accepted the temple cult and its sacrificial system. As for the twelve, Acts itself presents them as faithful to the temple cult. The twelve seem to view the temple with customary Jewish outlook. They preach in the temple. Their community meets everyday in the temple. They go to the temple for the daily Jewish prayers (2:46, 3:1). Acts does not say that the disciples took part in the daily sacrifices. But "there were numerous other places of worship in Jerusalem besides the Temple. Why then should the disciples have clung just to that sanctuary, rather than to any synagogues, if they really shrank from partaking of those forms of worship which could be performed exclusively in the Temple?" (Simon, Stephen, 98-99). Also, Acts says that the twelve and their companions enjoyed the good will of the people (2:42, cf. 4:21, 5:26) suggesting that by and large the twelve were in good relations with the Jews, which would be more likely if they accepted in substance the whole temple cult.

The difference of views concerning the temple cult between the seven and the twelve is consistent with the way the temple authorities treated the two groups. While Stephen, the leader of the seven, is executed without any voice in the Sanhedrin to support him, we are told in Acts 5:33-40 that when the Sanhedrin wanted to do away with some of the apostles under arrest, Gamaliel, a Pharisee member of the council, advised them to leave the apostles alone for God to deal with them. The Sanhedrin listens to the advice and let the apostles go after flogging. That Peter and the twelve were in peaceful relationship with the temple authorities is shown by favorable references to Peter (Shim'on Kepha) in the Jewish Midrashic literature. There is even a prayer which is attributed to him. He supposedly became Christian to prevent his fellow Christians from persecuting Jews (Str. Bill., I, 530ff., Kraeling, The Disciples, p. 263, n. 42). The difference in the attitude of the Jews and their authorities to the twelve and the seven is seen even more clearly when immediately after describing the execution of Stephen, the Acts says:

That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria (8:1).

If the picture painted in 6:1-6 of Stephen and the rest of the seven coming into existence and functioning as a body under the religious guidance of the apostles, who for Luke are the twelve (6:2,6 etc), is already shaky, it reaches a breaking point with the trial and execution of Stephen and falls apart with the above statement. It is impossible to accept that a "severe persecution" will force a major part of the church to leave Jerusalem and scatter in the countryside while its leaders remain safe in the city. That the persecution effected mostly, if not entirely, the Hellenists, is shown subsequently in 8:3 which tells us that Philip, the leading member of the seven after the execution of Stephen, was among those who left Jerusalem and went to Samaria.

The conclusion seems to be inevitable that the seven Hellenists represented a group in the Jesus movement that was from the very beginning separate from the twelve and that Acts 6:1-6 is an attempt by Luke or his source to bring them under the spiritual authority of the twelve in the interest of an idealized picture of continuity and unity in the early church.

The existence of a Hellenist church independent of the twelve becomes understandable if we note that Peter and most, if not all, of the remaining twelve returned to Galilee soon after the Passover during which Jesus had to hide and disappear. This is shown by John 16:32 where Jesus talks of the disciples leaving him alone and going each to his "own home" and also by the "resurrection" appearances of Jesus to Peter and the twelve in Galilee, appearances that Luke has to suppress in order to keep the twelve in Jerusalem to start the church there and to deny that there was any church independent of them and in existence prior to their arrival. (For the tradition of Jesus' "appearances" see Part VI).

The story of Jesus is expected to create waves in Jerusalem prior to the arrival of the twelve there and it is quite likely that some people there, including some Hellenists had found use for the story and thus integrated it into whatever reform movement they were previously carrying out. This is strongly suggested by Stephen's speech which seems to be adding a reference to Jesus to previously existing Hellenist views rather than expressing or interpreting views originating from Jesus. It seems that because of their radical views Stephenite Hellenists were in a state of conflict with the more conservative Hellenists along with their friends in the Sanhedrin even before Jesus. The use of the Jesus story by Stephen's group pushed the conflict to a new level because the conservative Hellenists and the temple authorities probably thought of this as an alliance between two hostile movements. By the time the twelve arrived in Jerusalem the conflict had already reached a critical point, for as soon as the Acts brings the Hellenists and the twelve together the persecution of Stephen and other Hellenists starts. Also, Acts says that this persecution forced all the Jesus followers to leave Jerusalem "except the apostles." This suggests that the mission of the twelve had not yet progressed far enough for them to have a considerable following, for otherwise we should expect to read: "except the apostles and other Hebrews". Thus when the twelve arrived from Galilee, the seven were already under considerable pressure from other Jews. They probably expected support from the twelve, including help for their poor, but the differences between the two groups were too deep to allow any cooperation. Soon Stephen is executed and other Hellenists are expelled.

The above reconstruction of the history is to a large extent shared widely by scholars and is largely based on earlier work. However, our evidence enables us to go further and conclude that the differences between the seven and the twelve did not stop with their attitude towards the temple. They also radically differed in their views about Jesus. The seven viewed Jesus as a prophet who was executed for his anti-temple outlook. In contrast, the twelve denied that Jesus was executed and believed him to be the Messiah in exile who would soon return to perform his messianic function. The primary evidence for the views of the seven is found again in Acts itself.

Acts reports many speeches that it attributes to apostles Peter and Paul. In each of these speeches, we can recognize the risen Lord and Messiah of the Christian proclamation. In almost all of them the apostles, in fact, mention the death of Jesus, his resurrection and his messiahship. This is as true of the speeches made to the general public as of those made during trials before the Jewish authorities (4:5-12, 5:27-42). In contrast, in Stephen's trial speech we find only the mention of Jesus' death (Acts 7:52-53), where Stephen tells his persecutors that their fathers "killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels but did not keep it." A mention of the resurrection or messiahship of Jesus are difficult to find despite the fact that this speech is longer than any other in Acts. One may see at one place the identification of Jesus with the Prophet like Moses who was expected in pre-Christian tradition on the basis of Deut 18:15. In Acts 7:37 the Deuteronomy passage about the Prophet like Moses, who is described as a ruler and deliverer (Acts 7:35), is quoted. But the quotation goes nowhere. After the quotation one expects an application to Jesus but the verse just after the quotation reads: "This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living oracles to give to us (7:38) (RSV)." It is best to take these words as referring to Moses himself and the reference to the Prophet like Moses in v. 37 as a later insertion. There is evidence that sometime after their mission to Samaria the Stephenite Hellenists identified Jesus with the Prophet like Moses (see below).

One may also see an identification of Jesus with a messianic figure in the account of Stephen's martyrdom given at the end of his speech. Stephen sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God and says: "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (7:56)." Here the identification of Jesus with the Son of Man is not found in the words of Stephen but only when these words are interpreted in terms of what the narrator tells us just before in v. 55. This identification represents a massive discontinuity with the speech, since it is nowhere even hinted at in Stephen's speech or, for that matter, anywhere else in Acts. We can, however, understand the reference to the Son of Man if originally he was not identified with Jesus: Before dying, Stephen, in the manner of other martyrs (see Ch. 22) looks forward to the eschatological judge.

Thus for Stephen, Jesus was not a risen/ascended Messiah/Son of Man but a martyred righteous one. The description of Jesus as "righteous" or as "the righteous one" occurs in Matt 27:19, where it is found on the lips of Pilate's wife; Luke 23:47, where it replaces Mark's "son of God" in the centurion's confession; Acts 3:14, in Peter's speech where it is combined with "the holy one" (cf. John 6:69); Acts 7:51, in Stephen's speech; Acts 22:14, in Ananias' words to Paul; and in 1 Pet 3:18, 4:18, 1 John 2:1-2, and James 5:6. In all these passages except Acts 22:14 (for which see Ch. 10) the description occurs in connection with the passion of Jesus or, in case of 1 Pet 3:18, 4:18, James 5:6, suffering of the righteous generally. This usage, consistent with the Jewish tradition (Wisdom of Solomon 2-5) and with the application to the martyred James, the brother of Jesus, implies a concentration on the death of Jesus which in Stephen's speech precludes any thought of Jesus' resurrection or messiahship.

Luke ends the story of the seven by an encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The story is centered around Isa. 53:7 which talks only of someone being led for slaughter like a lamb. As in Stephen's speech, there is no mention of resurrection or messiahship of Jesus and one gets the strong impression that the whole message of Philip was built around the death of Jesus. The narrator of the story of the Ethiopian's conversion could have chosen any passage, even from Isa. 53 if he wanted Philip to preach a risen Messiah who had to die for men's salvation and then rise again. That he chose Isa. 53:7 suggests that Philip's preaching did not present Jesus as the Messiah. One may argue that the very fact that here in Philip's preaching, as in Stephen's speech, Jesus fulfils prophecy implies that he was some kind of messianic figure. But in Jewish tradition the scriptural prophecies could be applied to all kinds of events and persons without any implication that they were strictly messianic. Moreover, it is possible that in rivalry to the twelve who used prophecy to show that Jesus was the ascended Messiah, the Hellenists also used prophecy to show that he was a martyred prophet. The promise of such a prophet they saw in such passages as Isa. 53:7.

The absence of any mention of the resurrection and messiahship of Jesus in the words of both the leading Hellenists cannot be attributed to Luke, since he has recorded mention of these beliefs in every other speech. Nor can it be a coincidence that traditions Luke connects with the two most leading members of the Hellenist community are so reticent about the resurrection and messiahship of Jesus. This reticence must reflect a characteristic of the earliest Hellenist tradition.

It is not inherently implausible that at some stage the Hellenists believed in the execution of Jesus as a prophet-reformer and not in his resurrection while the twelve did not believe in his execution, only in his ascension as the Messiah. If a radical difference could exist between the seven and the twelve on such a basic issue as whether or not the temple and its cult had any validity, then similar differences could exist about questions related to Jesus' person and fate, especially of if those questions did not as yet possessed clear answers because of the fact that in every place people possessed only bit and pieces of information about Jesus.

The fact that the speech of Stephen and the preaching of Philip were based on a tradition that did not mention the resurrection and messiahship of Jesus but gave considerable importance to the death of Jesus is a remarkable fact that is not given its due by the scholars, no doubt because of the universally held assumption that the death, resurrection and messiahship of Jesus provided the basis for the whole church of Jesus from the beginning. It is generally admitted that the seven and the twelve were two independent Jesus groups. But the above evidence is ignored and both groups are assumed to share the belief in the death, resurrection and messiahship of Jesus. Thus Martin Hengel (Between Jesus and Paul) agrees with the view --on which "there is widespread unanimity" and which was "already pointed out by F. C. Baur"-- that "the 'Seven' are in reality not men who care for the poor, subordinate to the 'Twelve,' but the leading group of an independent community, the 'Hellenists'" and that there are some "tensions" between the two groups (13-14). He then goes on to enquire the reasons for the separation of the two groups, assuming that initially there was unity between them. In this connection Stephen's speech does not provide much help:

Granted, it is not simply a literary composition from Luke's pen. He certainly made use of old and distinctive traditions in it. But it remains extremely dubious whether we should connect it directly with Stephen and the Hellenists. Even if we assume that Luke, as elsewhere, has carefully provided a theological characterization of his protagonist through his speech in the framework of what is known about him, we cannot infer more from the speech than what we also know from the accusations against Stephen. The speech simply accentuates these accusations. So we have to look above all at the accusation and the trial (p. 19).

Hengel here gives no reason why the views in Stephen's speech should not be directly connected with Stephen and his group. The speech stands apart from other speeches in Acts and from Christian preaching generally so distinctly that it demands to be taken seriously as a source of information about Stephen and his group. Often a criterion of dissimilarity is applied to the sayings of Jesus whereby a saying is considered authentic if it differs both from the views prevalent in the church and those prevalent among the Jews. There is no reason why the same criterion should not be used in case of traditions connected with early Christian leaders and communities. The views expressed in Stephen's speech are distinct both from the Jewish beliefs prevalent at the time and from the Christian views that came to dominate the church when the writing of tradition started. We should seriously entertain the possibility that the speech reflects the views of Stephen and his group. The situation with regard to the speeches of Peter and Paul is different. They conform so closely with what came to be the mainstream beliefs of the church when Acts was written that we are forced to ask how far they represent the views of the two apostles.

In the Introduction I argued that the criterion of dissimilarity should be replaced by the criterion of a lack of any reasonable explanation of fabrication. Even by this criterion we should regard the absence of any mention of the resurrection and messiahship from the preaching of both Stephen and Philip and concentration on the execution of Jesus as a characteristic of the early Hellenists, since it is difficult to conceive of a reasonable explanation of why these features were fabricated and then preserved for many decades. We can thus safely draw the most remarkable and valuable conclusion that the Hellenists originally did not believe in the resurrection and messiahship of Jesus. Hengel is therefore also wrong that we cannot infer more from the speech than we can from the accusation and the trial.

The above view -- that the seven and the twelve represent Jesus groups that were independent of each other from the very day of their formation and held different views about the person and fate of Jesus -- is further supported by other traditions in the gospels and Acts while still other traditions become more understandable in the light of that view. I now discuss some of these traditions.

MARK 8:1-10.

The numbers "seven" of the Hellenist leaders and "twelve" of the Galilean apostles may have been chosen in some rivalry. In Judaism there existed the idea that seven representative of a city are like the city itself. "The three of a synagogue community are like the synagogue community (itself), and the seven of a city are like the city (itself)" says a Jewish rule. When in 66 C. E. Josephus organized the defense of Galilee, he gave each city seven judges, basing this on Deut. 16:18, although the Deuteronomy verse does not specify the number (Martin Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul, p. 16, n. 106, p. 147). When the group of seven was constituted, the Hellenists were thinking in terms of the city of Jerusalem. The choice of the twelve is best explained in relation to this choice of the seven: the number twelve implied a claim of leadership over the entire movement which at that time was thought in terms of Israel and not in terms of a world-wide mission. Soon afterwards the number twelve was connected with the messianic kingdom of Jesus in which the twelve disciples become the twelve judges over Israel.

The rivalry between the numbers is suggested by the two versions of the feeding of the multitude (Mark 6:30-44, 8:1-10=Matt 14:13-21, 15:32-39). In the first version there are 5 thousand people who are fed with 5 loaves and two fish and 12 baskets of food are left; in the second version there are 4 thousand people who are fed with 7 loaves and 7 baskets of food are leftover. It has been suggested that the number 12 in the first version represents the 12 tribes of Israel as well as the 12 apostles. It is quite likely that in the second version, similarly, the number of both the loaves and the left-over baskets represents the number of the seven leaders of the Hellenists. One of the two versions is consciously formulated by one of the group in rivalry to the other group.

MARK 8:14-21, 27a

This story about the faithlessness of the disciples is described by the commentators as "especially difficult one" (Nineham, Saint Mark, 215). The main difficulty arises from Mark 8:15 which has an independent version in Luke 12:1 without any of the context in Mark. This verse has a very artificial connection with the whole story. The best explanation seems to be that it was originally the conclusion of the previous story (8:11-13) in which the Pharisees ask Jesus to show them a sign from heaven. Jesus refuses the request, departs and on the way tells the disciples: "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees." (Mark adds "and leaven of Herod" but in view of Luke 12:1 where only the Pharisees are mentioned and Matt 16:6 where we find the Pharisees and the Sadducees, it is likely that originally the saying referred only to the Pharisees since they are the only group common to all the versions.)

For reconstructing a more original version of the story of the faithlessness of the disciples, two further observations are relevant: First, in Mark 8:19-20 there is a reference to both the feeding of the 5000 and the feeding of the 4000, which should be attributed to Mark or whoever first brought the two versions together. Since the present story follows almost immediately after the feeding of the 4000 it is likely that the reference to that feeding story alone is the original one. Second, originally the note in verse 27a that Jesus went to the villages of Caesarea Philippi probably concluded the story of the faithlessness of the twelve, since the intervening story about the healing of a blind man (Mark 8:22-26) is absent from both Matthew and Luke and may also be missing from the version of Mark used by the other two synoptists; even if it is original to Mark, it is probably a Markan addition to the original sequence.

Hence, removing verse 15, the reference to the feeding of the 5000 and the healing of the blind man, the original form of the story is found to be something like this:

Now they said to one another, "We have no bread." And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?" And they said to him, "Seven." Then he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?" ... And he went to Caesarea. (Reconstruction)

The condemnation of the disciples by Jesus is extremely strong: The words in verses 17-18 echo such Old Testament passages as Isa 6:9-10, Jer 5:21 and Ezek 12:2 which are elsewhere applied to the hardness of heart and blindness of the unbelievers (Acts 28:26) or to those outside the inner circle (Mark 4:10-12). Such condemnation of the twelve would be understandable by the circle of the seven, since they must have felt a strong hostility towards them as a result of their refusing food to the widows of the Hellenists as well as a strong sense of betrayal when the Hellenists were being persecuted while the twelve were living in good relations with their persecutors. The reference to the disciples talking about insufficient bread may originally have some connection with the refusal by the twelve to give food to the widows of the Hellenists. The refusal presumably was not blunt but on the basis of the reason that they did not have enough food to be given out. The Hellenists may well have accused the twelve of being too concerned with the scarcity of food and attributed that concern to faithlessness.

There is another indication that in Mark 8:14-21 we are dealing with traditions that originated from Stephenite Hellenists. In 8:27a Mark tells that Jesus went to the "villages of Caesarea Philippi," "an obscure expression generally taken to mean the villages in the area around Caesarea Philippi" (Nineham, Saint Mark, p. 228). Caesarea Philippi, situated 25 miles north of Bethsaida near the source of Jordan on Mount Hermon and so-called because it was rebuilt by Herod Philip, is not otherwise connected with Jesus or early Christians. However, there is another city called Caesarea, situated by the Mediterranean sea and providing an important link between Palestine and other Mediterranean countries. This Caesarea occupies an important position in the early history of the Hellenist Christians. This is the city where Philip, the leader of the Hellenists after Stephen, settled after persecution forced them to leave Jerusalem (Acts 8:40, 21:8). It is therefore likely that originally Jesus goes to Caesarea which got confused with Caesarea Philippi because of the identity of names and because in the previous story about the healing of a blind man Jesus is in Bethsaida. The travel of Jesus to Caesarea is then actually the travel of Hellenist Christianity of the seven to Caesarea. If so, then it is natural to regard the place Dalmanutha to which Jesus goes after feeding the 4000 as another place connected with the early mission of the Hellenists. (Matthew has Magadan, and in some manuscripts, Magdala or Magadalan, readings that have influenced texts of Mark as well. These probably reflect attempts to provide more plausible locations than the obscure and possibly remote Dalmanutha, with the unintended result, as often, of making things more difficult.)

MARK 8:27b-33

This important passage to which we will refer several times in this book is a combination of two originally separate and even opposing stories found in vv. 27b-30 and vv. 31-33. This is first of all clear from the command to secrecy in 8:30, which often forms a conclusion of a story in Mark and suggests that 27b-30 is a story by itself. Also, the words in 8:31 "And he began to teach them ..." look like the beginning of a new story. Note how Luke 9:21 has smoothed the break between Mark 8:30 and 31.

Mark 8:27b-30. In order to reconstruct the most primitive form of the story behind this passage, we first note that the secrecy motif is absent from John and is present in Matthew and Luke only in parallels to Mark. There is thus good reason to believe that the motif is specifically Markan. If so and if the story is an early pre-Markan tradition, then 8:30 was not its original conclusion. Rudolf Bultmann suggests that the original conclusion is found in Matt 16:17-19. He also suggests that Mark 8:27a ("And Jesus went ... to ... Caesarea Philippi") is the conclusion of the previous pericope (8:20-26) and the phrase "on the way" in 27b comes from Mark (The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 138-140, 257-259, 405-406, 427). In Luke there is no mention of Caesarea Philippi and the story takes place immediately after the feeding of the 5000 which, as will be shown in Ch. 28, puts it around the time of the ascension.

The opinion of the people in Mark 8:28 that Jesus was John the Baptist is of a different nature than the other opinions. It could even be a negative opinion, expressed in 6:16 by Herod. It has been suggested that the tradition behind Mark 6:14-16 originally mentioned only Herod's opinion of Jesus as John come back to life and that Mark himself has introduced other opinions. This is perhaps supported by the parallel in Matt 14:1-2 which has only Herod's opinion. If so, then it is quite possible that Mark himself is responsible for including this opinion in 8:28.

Thus a likely form of the original "Confession of Peter" behind Mark 27b-30 is:

Jesus [was on a mountain when he] asked the disciples, Who do people say that I am? And they answered him, "Some say Elijah and others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am? Simon answered, "You are the Messiah." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Reconstruction)

The above tradition is of early Palestinian origin, as is shown by some Semitisms: "one of the prophets" is a Semitic way of saying "a prophet," "Bar-Jona" is Aramaic for "son of Jonah." The word play on the name Cephas and the Aramaic word "cepha" for rock is more likely in Aramaic than the word play on the name Peter and the word petra (=rock) in Greek.

Regardless to what degree one accepts the above reconstruction, or any other, it is clear that the belief in the messiahship of Jesus was, according to Mark, not only accepted by the twelve but originated with them or their leader, Peter.

Mark 8:31-33. Mark may well have made some editorial changes in this passage, but they are difficult to identify. We, therefore, consider the passage as it stands:

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get away from me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

It is clear that the rebuke of Peter is occasioned primarily by the prophecy of the execution of Jesus. But if Peter rejected the execution of Jesus, he naturally also rejected his subsequent resurrection. For Peter Jesus never died. Note the contrast between the two stories underlying Mark 8:27b-33. In the first story death of Jesus is not part of the Christian belief; in the second it is cornerstone of the Jesus movement. In the first story, Peter rejects what "people" think of Jesus in favor of a revelation from the Father in heaven; in the second he rejects the divine will in favor of what men think. In the first he is blessed; in the second he is cursed as Satan. In the first he is made the foundation stone of the church; in the second he is banished from the church. The opposition between two traditions cannot be greater. The two stories could not possibly originate from the same group. They come from two opposing groups and one of them was formulated with the knowledge of, and in opposition, to the other. The first story clearly comes from the circle of the twelve or of Peter specifically, who believed in Jesus as the Messiah in waiting. But who produced the second story? One possible answer is: Stephenite Hellenists. One may exclude this possibility on the basis of the fact that, as seen earlier, the Stephenite Hellenists did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, whereas in the story in its Markan form Jesus predicts both his execution and resurrection. It is, however, possible that in its most primitive form the story only contained Jesus' prediction about his death and not of his resurrection, in which case it could come from the Stephenite Hellenists. If the Markan form is substantially the original form, then it is more natural to attribute it to some other group. At some stage there evidently developed a church based on the belief in Jesus as the dying and rising Messiah, probably among the Hellenists in Syria led by Ananias (see Ch. 10). The above story could have then come from this Hellenist church.

MARK 8:34-38

These sayings also originated from the Hellenists at a very early stage and reflect the situation of persecution suffered by them. On the basis of the distinction between Jesus and the Son of Man in Mark 8:38, the verse may be considered an authentic saying of Jesus. But Stephenite Hellenists also made a distinction between Jesus and the Messiah or Son of Man and so the saying could have originated from them. If so, those who are ashamed of Jesus or deny him include the twelve. The saying would later give rise to the story of the denial of Jesus by Peter (see Ch. 22). (See Ch.9 for more detailed examination of the Son of Man tradition.)

 

TWO SUCCESSIVE MISSIONS IN JERUSALEM

As noted earlier, initially there were two successive missions in Jerusalem. First, there was the mission of the Hellenists and then there was the mission of the twelve. Also, Luke is determined to show that there was complete continuity between the ministry of Jesus and the mission of the twelve, that is, the twelve were the direct, immediate and only successors of Jesus. Perhaps this was a reaction to the claims of some Hellenists that they were the first to start the Jesus mission, at least in Jerusalem. In any case, Luke's perspective makes him suppress the Hellenist mission in Jerusalem and to insist that the twelve never left Jerusalem so that the mission there was started by them. Keeping this perspective of Luke in mind enables us to understand the way he has constructed his story of the early church in Jerusalem in Acts 1-8, which we now examine in some detail.

The Pentecostal descent of the Spirit. Before looking at Luke's account of this event, a few words about the Pentecostal feast may be helpful: Pentecost (Greek for "fiftieth") or the feast of weeks marked the close of the grain harvest, which lasted seven weeks starting from the Passover. It also commemorates the giving of the law on Sinai seven weeks after the exodus, which in turn is commemorated by the Passover. In earlier times it seems to be of relatively minor importance, being omitted in the original text of Ezek. 45:21f. but added by a later hand reflecting the growing importance of the feast. There are allusions to the feast in Isa 9:3 and Psalm 4:7. By the time of the final writing of the Pentateuch it becomes an established part of Jewish religion, references to its exact time and to the sacrifices and rites connected with it being found in Deut. 16:9, Lev. 23:10-21, Num. 28:26f.

Now Acts tells that at the Pentecost which followed the Passover of Jesus' visit to Jerusalem there was a visible and miraculous manifestation of the Spirit. Luke regards this event as the beginning of the Jesus mission. Prior to this event we are presented with no mission and there is only the community of believers that Jesus left behind, said to be consisting of 120 persons, including the twelve, the relatives of Jesus and some women (Acts 1:14-15).

In both Paul and Acts one of the manifestations of the Spirit is said to be glossolalia or speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 12-14, Acts 10:46, 19:6) -- uttering sounds believed to be mysterious heavenly communications in a state of trance, unintelligible both to the speaker and to the audience (1 Cor. 14:2, 14, 16, 19), though there were some who had interpretations for these sounds (1 Cor. 12:10). Another important manifestation of the Spirit is prophecy, preaching, exhortation etc. It seems that these two manifestations had separate origins and were combined later. In Acts 2:1-4 Luke seems to be combining two versions of the way the Spirit descended, which correspond to the two manifestations of the Spirit. Verses 2 and 4 give one version, according to which the Spirit descends with a sound like that of a rush of a powerful "wind" (which is the original meaning of "spirit"). The next thing that happens is that the believers experience themselves being filled by the Spirit and then they start to preach or prophesy. This version has a close parallel in 4:30-31, where the coming of the Spirit is accompanied by a shaking of the place where the believers are gathered together and is followed by the believers getting filled with the Spirit and then speaking the word, i.e., preaching. In verse 3, on the other hand, the coming of the Spirit takes place in a completely different and otherwise unattested form. "Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each one of them." This immediately brings to mind glossolalia with the key word "tongues": Each believer receives a tongue from heaven whereby he subsequently speaks in tongues. In 1 Cor 13:1 Paul speaks of tongues of men and of angels, which probably refers to the two forms of speech that the Spirit inspires in the believers: prophecy and glossolalia. They prophesy through tongues of men while glossolalia takes place through tongues of angels. The tongues seen at the Pentecost are the tongues of angels that are now given to the believers. The comparison with fire may be meant to accentuate the heavenly origin of the tongues (cf. Exod 19:16-19 and Deut 4:11-12, where God's coming accompanies fire and 2 Thess 1:7-8 where "the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire") or it may reflect the idea that "the tongue is a fire" which in James 3:6 represents negatively the destructive power of the tongue but may also have been used positively in some sense. It may also reflect an attempt to fulfill the prophecy of John the Baptist that there will come one after him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

But Luke has not only combined two originally separate versions of the way the spirit descended but also introduced a new element in the manifestation. He describes the effect of the descent of the Spirit at the Pentecost by saying not that the believers started glossolalia and prophecy/preaching but to speak in other tongues, that is, in human languages unknown to the recipients of the Spirit. But how does Luke end up describing the effect of the Spirit as prophesying/preaching in unknown languages? Neither Luke's particular theology nor his overview of the history of the church enables us to understand this. Elsewhere in Acts Luke is quite willing to recognize glossolalia and prophecy/preaching as the two main gifts of the Spirit. Thus Peter, in his speech justifying to his church in Jerusalem the preaching of the gospel to Cornelius and his companions, specifically mentions the two manifestations of the Spirit. Moreover, the speech puts the Pentecostal descent of the Spirit in the same category as the descent of the Spirit on the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46, 11:15). Similarly, in Acts 19:6 Luke mentions glossolalia and prophecy as the two ways in which the receiving of the Spirit by the believers in Ephesus is manifested. These passages are clearly Luke's composition and show that Luke could not have any objection to the earlier Pentecostal descent of the Spirit having the same two manifestations. Thus Luke has nothing against glossolalia. The source of the idea that the Pentecostal descent of the Spirit was manifested by prophesying/preaching in languages unknown to the believers must be explained in another way.

We need not look any further for such an explanation than the well-known concern on the part of Luke to make the twelve as the only successors of Jesus. As noted earlier, the mission in Jerusalem was started by the Hellenists. It is therefore possible that in the Pentecostal tradition the Spirit descended on the Jerusalem Hellenists and not the Galilean followers. The type of radical criticism found in the views of Stephen and his group can either be called blasphemy or compared with the criticism found in the Old Testament prophets, in which case it would be naturally attributed to the prophetic Spirit. The opponents of the Hellenists called it blasphemy but the Hellenists themselves understandably attributed it to the spirit of prophecy.

Now since Luke wants to show that the church was from the very beginning united under the twelve, he must make sure that the Pentecostal coming of the Spirit takes place to such a united church headed by the Galilean twelve. Towards this end, contrary to the testimony of other traditions, he keeps the twelve in Jerusalem and twice states Jesus' instruction that they should not leave Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Spirit. First in his gospel he makes Jesus tell the disciples that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem (24:47). (The words "beginning from Jerusalem" are out of construction, but there is no reason why any one other than Luke would add them. In any case, the command in the subsequent verse to stay "here in the city," which implies that the disciples' mission will start from Jerusalem, certainly goes back to Luke.) Jesus also tells them that he will send upon them what his Father promised, i.e. the Spirit. Then in Acts 1:4 he refers back to these instructions. Finally, in Acts 2 he gives account of the descent of the Spirit. It is, therefore, likely that this account was influenced by the very deliberate strategy that he has indicated in his gospel and the first verses of Acts.

Starting with the assumption that the descent of the Spirit originally involved only the preaching by the Hellenists at the Pentecostal feast we can see how it came to be the miracle of speaking in unknown languages. The Hellenists would have been quite able to preach to the pilgrims from foreign lands, sometimes speaking with them in the languages of their native lands. In view of his perspective, Luke cannot allow any independent Jesus movement in Jerusalem. Hence he must not only keep the twelve in Jerusalem and let the preaching and conversion start with them but the activity of the Spirit already taking place prior to the arrival of the twelve must also be channeled through the twelve. Therefore he must say that the Spirit came to the twelve and their Galilean companions, since, in his scheme, as yet there are no other Christians. This results in a transference to the Galileans of the preaching in different languages by the Hellenists which in turn results in turning that preaching into a miracle whereby Galilean Jesus followers begin to preach in foreign tongues that they had never known before. The Jews who had come from different lands presumably to join the feast are amazed and astonished and they ask: "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?" Our answer to these questions is different from that of Luke. Those who talked to the Jews from foreign countries were Hellenists who knew those languages. Luke makes them Galileans because of the need on his part to re-write history in order to present linear continuity, unity and integrity in the development of the Jesus movement. It is the same need that makes him withhold the Spirit from Philip's Samaritan converts until Peter and John lay hands on them (Acts 8:15-17).

Paul also seems to preserve the tradition of preaching in different languages without any hint that it was a miracle. In 1 Cor 14:21, Paul quotes Isa 28:11-12 which in its original form reads: "Truly, with stammering lip and with alien tongue he will speak to this people ... yet they would not hear" but which in Paul's citation reads:

By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people; yet even then they will not listen to me.

Paul's quotation far more clearly refers to preaching in foreign languages than the passage in Isaiah. However, this meaning of the passage conflicts with the context in which Paul quotes the passage. This context shows that Paul applies the passage to glossolalia which according to what he says in 1 Cor 14:1-19 is incomprehensible speech-like babbling and not speech in a foreign language. Moreover, in glossolalia a person speaks not to "other people but to God" whereas in the quotation, foreigners and people with strange languages speak to other people. It is possible that Stephenite Hellenists applied Isa 28:11-12 to their preaching in foreign languages. In 1 Cor 14:21, Paul is probably dependent on this early use of Isa 28:11 by the Stephenite Hellenists but has misinterpreted it.

There are other indications that the Pentecostal descent of the Spirit took place among the Hellenists and not among the Galilean twelve. Notice how Peter says in Acts 2:15: "these are not drunk" instead of "we are not drunk" as if Peter and the remaining twelve simply supervise the reception of the Spirit by others rather than being active participants in the event. Also, the Spirit is connected most closely with Stephen and Philip, the two leading Hellenists. Stephen is described as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit" (6:5). He speaks with wisdom and the spirit and therefore his opponents cannot hold their own against him (6:10). When the opponents bring him before the Sanhedrin, his face appears as the face of an angel (6:15); an angel is probably a visible form of the spirit. At the end of the speech the heavens open and "filled with the Holy Spirit" he sees the glory of God (7:55). In contrast, his opponents have always resisted the Holy Spirit like their forefathers who persecuted the prophets without exception (7:51-52); Stephen's opponents also fail to keep the law transmitted by the angels (7:53). Hengel regards this escalation of the theme of the Spirit as unique in the New Testament and thinks that it is based on a pre-Lukan presentation of Stephen the martyr "as the paradigmatic bearer of the spirit" (Between Jesus and Paul, 22-23).

Philip is also seen in the Acts as a "pneumatic," a man guided and controlled by the Spirit which is identified with the Angel of the Lord, probably the same angel who according to Stephen's speech appeared to Moses in the bush and spoke to him at Mount Sinai (7:35, 38). It is the Angel of the Lord who speaks to Philip saying, "Rise and go to the south ..." (8:26) to meet the Ethiopian. Later it is the Spirit that tells Philip to approach the chariot of the Ethiopian (8:29). After he has baptized the Ethiopian, the Spirit whirls him away (8:39). His whole household seems to be filled with the Spirit; all his four daughters prophesied (21:9). To be sure in Acts 10 the conversion of Cornelius is described in similar terms under the guidance of the Spirit or the Angel: it is the Spirit that directs Peter to Cornelius and the "Lord" who directs Cornelius to Peter is not Jesus but an angel (10:3, 7); even before Peter finishes preaching the Holy Spirit falls upon Cornelius and his friends (10:44). But this story reflects the influence of the Hellenist conversion stories rather than the point of view of Peter or the twelve, as is shown by the vision in 10:9-16 where Peter is told to kill and eat every kind of animal prohibited in Jewish Law, which certainly neither reflects the attitude of Jesus and his disciples nor a tradition coming from the circle of the twelve.

It is significant that in the stories of Stephen and Philip the Spirit is always mentioned in connection with preaching, prophecy and revelation. Both Stephen and Philip are said to perform signs and wonders (6:8; 8:6, 13) but they are not explicitly connected with the Spirit. In 1 Cor. 12:4-11 Paul includes healing and working of miracles among the gift of the Spirit. But in Acts the Spirit is manifested in glossolalia and in prophecy (10:46, 19:6), of which the early Hellenists in Jerusalem knew only the latter; the former came later under the influence of Greek religion (see Ch. 10).

As in the case of the concentration on the death of Jesus, this unique stress on the Spirit in connection with the seven and its manifestation in terms of prophecy and preaching cannot be a coincidence or Lukan invention. This must be a characteristic of the early Stephenite tradition. In Acts 2:1-13 Luke is in all probability dependent on such a tradition both for the account of the descent of the Spirit and its manifestation as Hellenist preaching and prophesying. We can go further and reconstruct in main outline the Hellenist tradition that he has used in Acts 2:1-13.

Towards this end, first note that this passage has one notable discontinuity or tension that has often been noted. In v. 1 the believers are "all together in one place" (in Greek, there is no word corresponding to "place"). In v. 2 they are sitting in a house. But then in verses 5-13 they are assumed to be in the open where they are heard by a crowd that got together after hearing the sound mentioned in verse 2. We could assume that the crowd heard the believers speaking in different languages, but that would make a very unnatural scene. If we eliminate the reference in verse 2 to the house where the believers were sitting, we obtain the following scene: The believers are gathered somewhere in the open. The Spirit descends upon them making a sound like that of a powerful wind. They start to preach in different languages. People gather after hearing the sound and hear the speeches recognizing their languages. In this scene it would be odd that while the people heard the sound they did not see the tongues, as of fire, that came to rest on the believers. However, as seen earlier, the reference to the tongues may be a secondary tradition which was added by Luke and which came from those who practiced glossolalia.

One difficulty in attributing the reference to the house to Luke and eliminating is that we should expect him to add this reference in v. 1, where he notes the time and place of the event. But there is another reconstruction which would allow us to retain the house as the original location of the event. In Acts 4:23-31 there is another descent of the Spirit. Once again the believers are presented as gathered in a place, the Spirit descends shaking the place of assembly and "they spoke the word with boldness". However, here it is not natural to think that the speaking with boldness took place at the very place in which they were gathered and at the very time when they received the Spirit. We should rather take the reference here to the preaching that followed subsequent to the event, at some other places and times. Likewise in the tradition behind 2:1-13 it is possible that the reference was to preaching that followed sometime (soon) after the reception of the Spirit, possibly on the same Pentecost. If so, it is Luke who has created the confusion by presenting the preaching as taking place directly after the reception of the Spirit and gathering the crowds there and then to hear the preaching.

Thus in the main outline the Stephenite tradition that Luke has used in 2:1-13 ran as follows:

The believers are gathered together [in a house] when suddenly there comes a sound like the rush of a powerful wind felt by all those present. They are all filled with the Spirit and then they start preaching Jews from every nation in their respective tongues - Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea ... Cretans and Arabs.

In view of Acts 4:30-31, such a reconstruction is entirely plausible. And it is easy to understand its purpose. It is a foundation legend of the Hellenist church in Jerusalem. The historical fact behind it is that sometimes near the first Pentecost after the departure of Jesus the Hellenists started preaching in Jerusalem, as Jesus "followers", to Jews from different countries who had either come to Jerusalem as pilgrims or living there like the Stephenite Hellenists themselves. This preaching is attributed to the Spirit of prophecy which is then represented as having come with concrete manifestations and filled the Hellenists.

Luke has modified the tradition by adding the reference to the appearance of tongues, as of fire, using a later tradition which concentrated on glossolalia. He has also assumed that preaching starts directly after the coming of the Spirit, there and then. Finally, he has changed the recipients of the Spirit from the Hellenists to the Galilean disciples which turns the preaching in different languages by members of the Hellenist church in their own various native languages into a miracle of preaching by the Galilean disciples who previously did not known those languages.

Earlier, we noted that the story of the Hellenists starts in Acts 6 abruptly without any introduction suggesting that the earliest part of the story of the Hellenists has been suppressed by Luke. If the analysis of this chapter so far is correct, then the part that Luke has suppressed consists of a tradition of a descent of the Spirit on the Hellenists only and subsequent preaching by the Hellenists prior to the arrival of the twelve. Thus the main outline of the story of the Hellenists probably ran as follows:

  1. The Pentecostal descent of the Spirit on the Stephenite Hellenist.

  2. Preaching by the seven based on a rejection of the temple cult, conversion of some other Hellenists, hostility with some other Jews.

  3. The arrival of the twelve and their refusal to help the Hellenists.

  4. The arrest of Stephen, his trial and execution.

  5. The exodus from Jerusalem.

An alternative descent of the Spirit. It is noteworthy that Acts describes not one but two descents of the Spirit on the Jerusalem church. The account of the second descent, found in 4:23-31, shows no awareness of the first and indeed it runs counter to the first. This is seen by the fact that the second descent takes place after the believers pray for the boldness of the apostles and in answer to this prayer. This raises the question, Why the first descent of the Spirit at the Pentecost was not enough to make the apostles bold. Moreover, the prayer for boldness seems completely redundant since in the past more than two chapters some at least of the apostles were showing extraordinary boldness and there is no indication that other apostles or believers were suffering from any fear of the authorities. It thus seems that the second account was originally not meant to be an account of a second descent but rather of an alternative descent.

As the Hellenists launched their movement using Jesus and attributing this launch directly to the Spirit and indirectly to Jesus, Peter and some other disciples were preaching in Galilee that Jesus had ascended to heaven and will soon return as the Messiah. They acquired the authority for their mission, not from the Holy Spirit, but from what Jesus said to them before his ascension or exile. These Galilean disciples repeated Jesus' call for repentance and promise of forgiveness as well as carrying out some healing. When they heard of the success of the Hellenist mission, they felt that they were being bypassed as the legitimate successors of Jesus. Consequently, they decided to move to Jerusalem and claim their right. Another reason for their move was that the potential for the success of their mission was higher in Jerusalem, which is the reason why Jesus also went there at the suggestion of his brothers.

The story of a descent of the Spirit on the Galilean twelve was created in rivalry to the Hellenist tradition. It was patterned to some extent on the story of the descent of the Spirit on the Hellenists that Luke has used and transformed in 2:1-13. Luke does not say that the descent of the Spirit in Acts 4:23-31 took place to the Galilean disciples but this was probably at least assumed in the original account. Luke obviously cannot say so at this stage of his book since he has already enlarged the church to consist of thousands of believers, most of them non-Galileans. It is noteworthy that while the first descent of the Spirit is a foundational event for the start of the Jesus mission, the second descent has the purpose only of strengthening the mission. This corresponds to the fact that while the Hellenists derived their authority from the Holy Spirit, the twelve derived it from their association with Jesus.

The curious story about Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11) also seems to be the result of the rivalry between the two Jesus groups. Ananias and Sapphira seem to be a couple of defectors from the church of the twelve to the Hellenists or to some of the successors of the Hellenists. Just as those who believed in the death (and resurrection) made stories against the twelve who rejected this belief (see the earlier discussion of Mark 8:31-33), so also some of the followers of the twelve sometimes made stories against those who held opposing beliefs and carried out rival missions.

 

RIVAL MISSIONS OUTSIDE JERUSALEM

Mission to Samaria. Acts 8:4 notes that the Stephenite Hellenists left Jerusalem as a result of persecution and carried a mission in Samaria and elsewhere. The mission apparently met with some success (Acts 8:8), probably because the Samaritans themselves were opposed to the temple in Jerusalem. Samaritans had first worshipped in a temple of their own on Mount Gerizim. This temple was destroyed by John Hyrcanus in 128 B.C.E. (Josephus, Ant 13.19.1), after which they offered sacrifices under the open sky on its site.

The departure of the Hellenists from Jerusalem, however, did not end the rivalry between the Hellenists and the twelve. It is noteworthy that the twelve followed the seven. They probably heard of Philip's success in Samaria and Peter and John went there (8:14). They pray and lay their hands on those baptized by Philip and as a result the baptized ones "received the Holy Spirit." The twelve also prayed and laid their hands on the seven, although Luke admits that at least one of the seven -- Stephen --was already full of the Holy Spirit before these actions by the twelve (6:5-6). In view of the evidence presented above it is clear that praying for and laying hands on the seven is Luke's way of bringing the seven under the authority of the twelve. Similar interpretation should be given to the two actions performed in Samaria on Philip's converts. In 8:25 Luke says that after Peter and John "had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many villages of the Samaritans." It is noteworthy that Luke does not present Peter and John meeting Philip at all, preserving in this way evidence that they were more interested in Philip's converts than in Philip himself. Had the mission of Peter and John been in harmony with that of Philip, they would have at some point linked up with him and organized a joint mission. Nothing of the kind is hinted at in Luke's present account.

That some of the Stephenite Hellenists and the twelve carried rival missions - is also supported by the references to Jesus' mission to Samaria in the gospels.

According to Luke 9:51-53 Jesus had the intention of making at least one stop in Samaria on his way to Jerusalem. But the messengers he sent in order to prepare for his trip were not well-received and therefore it seems that no mission was carried out by Jesus himself. John 4 on the contrary tells us that Jesus did pass through Samaria, though not when he was on his way to Jerusalem from Galilee but when he had to leave Judea for Galilee because of the Pharisees' hostile reaction to his mission there. Near the Samaritan city of Sychar, he met a woman and preached to her. Through the woman a large number of the residents of the city converted.

Luke's claim that Jesus showed interest in the Samaritans but failed to carry a mission among them and John's claim that he converted one of their cities are not only contradictory to each other but also to Mark's silence and Matthew's report that Jesus expressly prohibited his disciples from going into "any city of the Samaritans" (10:5). Thus it is very dubious that Jesus carried any mission in Samaria. The gospel references to his mission there are primarily projections back into Jesus' life of developments in the early church, developments that can also explain the contradictions in those references.

John's story about Jesus' trip to Samaria is ultimately related to the Hellenist mission to Samaria. This is suggested in the first place by a revealing statement of Jesus to his disciples: "For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor" (4:37-38). From this it is clear that the foundations for the church in Samaria were not laid by the twelve but some "others". Oscar Cullmann (The Early Church) has identified these "others" with the Hellenists of Acts 8. R.E.Brown (The Community of the Beloved Disciple) rejects the identification. But Cullmann's judgment is certainly the sounder one. Notice that in John 4 the conversion of the Samaritans takes place when Jesus is forced to leave Judea due to persecution. The Hellenist mission of Acts 8 also takes place as the Hellenists are obliged by persecution to leave Jerusalem (Judea). The success of Jesus in converting a city of the Samaritans corresponds to the success of the Hellenists in Samaria; no other early Jesus group is known to have carried a successful mission there. Also, like the Hellenists Jesus rejects the temple cult. The Samaritan woman says to Jesus: "Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you (Jews) say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.... But the hour is coming ... when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth ..." (4:20-23). Here Jesus is essentially reflecting Hellenist ideas, modified to a degree by the Johannine theology. From Justin we learn that the Diaspora Jews were as a rule considered in an inferior position by Palestinian Jews because they lived away from the holy land and could not take part in the liturgy in the temple, the only Jewish sanctuary in the world where God dwelt. It is in reaction to this that some Jews in the Diaspora developed the idea that they worshipped in spirit and truth and that this type of worship was superior to the one practiced in Jerusalem (Dialogue, 117.2). Stephenite Hellenists may well have held such an idea which is put in Jesus' mouth in John.

According to Bultmann (John, p. 175) the earlier tradition behind John 4 which the evangelist expanded in the light of his own theology is contained in verses 4-9, 16-19, 28-30, 40. In this material Jesus primarily appears as a prophet who rejects the temple cult. Only in verse 29 he is considered a Messiah when the Samaritan woman says to the people in her city: "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" But possession of prophetic knowledge does not naturally make someone the Messiah. Moreover, the Samaritans did not expect the Messiah but Taeb on the basis of Deut 18. And the woman's comment makes sense in the light of the Deuteronomy passage. For this passage gives a criterion to recognize the true prophet: his predictions should come true. Since to find the truth of predictions one has to wait, a better test would be if the prophet can know past or present events which he had no way of knowing by normal means and which can be verified immediately. Thus by telling the woman, whom he has just met, all that she had ever done Jesus shows that he is a true prophet. This makes it possible to raise the question whether he might be the Taeb expected on the basis of Deut 18. It is noteworthy that Deut 18 is also quoted by Stephen during his trial.

Thus John 4 appears to reflect the history of the church in Samaria. The earlier material behind the story in John comes from a group of Samaritan Jesus followers who viewed Jesus as an anti-temple prophet. This group was founded by the Stephenite Hellenists. At a later stage, Jesus was understood as the Taeb expected by the Samaritans which still later was identified with the Messiah of the emerging universal church. As noted earlier, the same three stages are visible in the story of Stephen's trial and execution: the earliest tradition behind the story presented Jesus as a martyred righteous one; a later addition introduced the prophet of Deut 18, perhaps at some stage understood to be Jesus himself; and a final editorial comment identified him as the Son of Man(=Messiah). John took this whole tradition a step further, making Jesus the Gnostic Savior of the world who brings eternal life. Through the legend behind John 4 this history of the church in Samaria has become a story about Jesus himself, who has thus been made the founder of the Samaritan church.

The particular form of the story in John 4 is probably related to stories found in the Old Testament: the meeting of Abraham's servant (who was looking for a wife for Isaac) with Rebekah (Gen 24), of Jacob with Rachel (Gen 29) and of Moses with Zipporah (Exod 2). In each of these stories, the hero (or his servant) travels to a foreign land and there at a well he meets with a woman, alone by herself or with other women. The traveler asks for drink and/or helps the woman or women in some way. The woman runs home to inform her people about the hero and they receive him with great hospitality, resulting in a marriage between the hero and the woman. These stories are parts of the foundational legends for the tribe of the Israelites or their religion. In John 4 a similar meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, which significantly takes place at Jacob's well, has become a legend for the foundation of the Samaritan church. Of course, in John Jesus does not marry the woman, only converts her by showing her his supernatural powers. But even this transformation had already taken place in the Old Testament in the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath

(1 Kings 17:8-17). Elijah travels to Zarephath "which belongs to Sidon" and there meets a woman at the gate of the city, gathering sticks. Elijah, thirsty and hungry, asks for water and bread. The woman can give water but does not have any bread to give. Elijah miraculously turns her want into plenty. Subsequently, he raises the dead son of the woman, after which she believes that he is a man of God (Helms, Gospel Fictions, 89-90). But Old Testament may not entirely be the source of the story in John. It may be historical that women were the first to respond to the Hellenist mission in Samaria. Twice in John 4 we have interesting male reaction to Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman. First, in v. 27 the disciples are astonished that Jesus was talking to a woman. Then, in v. 42, some Samaritans believe in Jesus after encountering him directly and say to the woman: "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world." This is probably an attempt to provide male witnesses for the foundation of the Samaritan church, without denying that the first Samaritan witness was a female.

To relate Luke 9:51-54 to the history of the early Jesus tradition and trace its development is more difficult because of the brevity of the passage. What is the purpose of James and John asking Jesus whether they should command fire to come down and consume the Samaritan villagers? Why do they not ask Jesus to command fire instead of asking his permission that they may command it? Do the "messengers" sent by Jesus to prepare his way represent Jesus followers who at a very early stage of the Jesus movement carried a mission from Galilee to Samaria, preaching him either as Elijah or one of the prophets or the Messiah? This is not at all unlikely, since the twelve and James the brother of Jesus and possibly other groups moved from Galilee to Jerusalem and might have passed through Samaria and preached briefly. It is also possible that the mission to Samaria mentioned in Luke is the mission of the twelve that according to Acts 8 was carried out on behalf of the twelve by Peter and John following the mission of the Hellenists. This is made less likely by the fact that Luke 9:51-54 mentions James and John and not Peter and John and that the mission takes place from Galilee and not from Judea. One thing seems certain that this mission was a failure because it had no affinity with the Samaritan's anti-temple outlook. In regard to Jesus' failed attempt in Samaria, Luke says that the Samaritans "did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem."

In any case, the differences between Johannine and Lukan traditions about Jesus' mission in Samaria can be explained if we view the former as reflecting the mission of the Hellenists and the latter as reflecting the mission of the twelve or some other group and if we regard the two missions as separate and rival missions, so that one could be successful while the other is a complete failure.

As for Matt 10:5, where Jesus prohibits his disciples from preaching in any city of the Samaritans, it must come from those Jesus followers who opposed any mission to non-Jews. The existence of such Jesus followers is well established on the basis of the conflict between Paul and some Jewish Christians regarding the Gentile mission. There is no evidence that the earliest Jesus groups -- the twelve, the seven or relatives of Jesus -- were opposed to a Samaritan or Gentile mission and so Matt 10:5 reflects a development that belongs to a somewhat later stage in the history of the Jesus movement.

Simon. The difference between the missions to Samaria carried by the Stephenite Hellenists and by the twelve is also revealed by the intriguing references in Acts 8 to Simon. We are first told that Simon had previously practiced magic which had amazed the people of Samaria and made them listen to him as someone great. "All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, 'This man is the power of God that is called Great.'" All this, however, changed when Philip preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. All men and women believed and were baptized, including Simon himself who constantly stayed with Philip and was amazed by the signs and wonders that took place, presumably through Philip. Then there arrived Peter and John and they laid their hands on the Samaritan converts of Philip who as a result received the Holy Spirit. Simon wanted to buy from Peter this gift but duly received a rebuke from Peter. Simon humbly asked Peter to pray the Lord for him.

Later references to Simon in church fathers show Simon to be a figure on behalf of which grand claims, rivaling those of the Christians for their Lord Jesus Christ, were made for a long time with considerable success. Thus Justin Martyr, himself a Samaritan, says that Simon was a native of a village called Gitton who performed miracles in the reign of Claudius (41-54 C.E.) and was adored by practically all the Samaritans. Justin goes on to tell that Simon was regarded as the Supreme God and that he wandered about with a certain Helen, a whore who was said to be redeemed by him and called the First Thought emitted by him (1 Apol. 26.1-3). Irenaeus gives us more details. The First Thought, the mother of All, leaped forward from Simon in his earlier existence as the Supreme God. She gave birth to the angels and worldly powers which in turn made the world, but those very forces detained her out of envy because they did not wish to be considered descendants of anyone. "She was shut up in a human body and through the centuries, as from one vessel to another, migrated into ever different female bodies," including that of Helen of Troy, for which Trojan War was fought. She finally ended up in a brothel. At this point, God descended on earth as the man Simon to free his Thought and take her to himself. In the process he redeemed all those who believed in him. He also re-established the world situation which was badly governed by the angels. The descent of the pre-existent God as Simon was actually his second descent. He earlier descended among the Jews as the Son in the form of Jesus who did not really suffer. He also later descended among other nations as the Holy Spirit. (Against Heresies 1.23.1-5)

This picture of Simon is consistent with what Luke says about him prior to the arrival of Philip. Now it is unlikely that such a figure would be so submissive to Philip and Peter and John as Luke tells us. But for our interest here what is noteworthy is that the relation between Simon and Philip appear to be very cordial while the arrival of Peter and John creates tensions. This can be explained if it is assumed that Philip and his companions presented Jesus as an anti-temple prophet who was martyred by the temple authorities. Such a message could be very easily received sympathetically by a Samaritan miracle worker and his followers and the two groups could remain in good relations. On the other hand, the twelve must have preached Jesus as the Messiah ascended to heaven who would soon return to rule the world, including, of course, Simon and his followers. Such a message would not be received well by one who was believed to be "the power of God that is called Great." And so the arrival of Peter and John created tensions. Some second-century followers of Simon later tried to unify the two religions by saying that Simon was the second incarnation of the same God who earlier incarnated as Jesus. Likewise some followers of Jesus might have borrowed ideas from the Simon tradition. Certainly, the Johannine Jesus who as the incarnation of the Son and the divine Logos descends from heaven as man, redeems those who believe in him, and then ascends to heaven looks like Simon in this respect.

Other missions. Missionary activities after the Samaritan missions were also carried out by the seven and the twelve, or their followers, at least in parallel if not in opposition. When Philip is already settled in Caesarea, we are told of Peter's trip there to convert Cornelius and other Gentiles (Acts 10). Once again it is remarkable that there is absolutely no contact between Philip and Peter. Not only this, but also the Lord had to bring Peter to Cornelius in Caesarea through elaborate visions shown separately to both, while all the time Philip was right there. If Philip and Peter were preaching the same Christianity under the same mission headed by the twelve it is difficult to explain why the preaching to Cornelius is not done by Philip or at least why the two missionaries did not meet and work together.

We are thus led to the conclusion that sometimes after the Hellenists left Jerusalem there was a fierce competition between them and the twelve, the Hellenists preaching a martyred reformer of Judaism while the twelve preaching a living Jesus about to return as the Jewish Messiah. Had the seven and the twelve united into a single group during the very brief time the two groups were in Jerusalem the whole history of Christianity would have been radically different. But the lack of cooperation from the twelve and the persecution by the Jews hardened the position of at least some of the Hellenists and made the belief in Jesus' execution even more meaningful to them, for now in Jesus' suffering and death they saw a paradigm for their own suffering and the martyrdom of their leader. If the reports of the twelve about the presence of Jesus in Galilee after his supposed execution in Jerusalem created any doubts in them about the martyrdom of Jesus, those doubts were now suppressed. Still, after sometimes, it became clear that neither side could defeat the other and a synthesis developed giving rise to the idea of a crucified Messiah and of Jesus' death and resurrection. Most Christians gradually accepted this synthesis but as shown by Mark 8:31-33, some at least of the disciples of Jesus continued for at least some time to reject this synthesis or have reservations about it.

 

James and the family of Jesus

From the references to James the brother of Jesus in Paul (Gal 1:19, 2:9) we learn that James was a leading figure in the Jerusalem church. This is further confirmed by Acts. Indeed, according to Acts, James at one point became the most powerful figure in that church (15:13-22, 21:18-25).

Yet in the canonical gospels James is a nobody. No appearance to him of the risen Jesus is mentioned. And he along with the rest of Jesus' family is presented in a negative light, especially in Mark.

In Mark 3:21 we are told that when the family of Jesus heard about "it" (presumably Jesus' exorcist activity) they went out to restrain him, for "they were saying, He has gone out of his mind;" here "they" can mean "people" as in RSV or Jesus' family as in Jerusalem Bible.

In Mark 6:1-6 some members of the family of Jesus are introduced to the readers through the unbelieving people of Nazareth. After hearing him teach in their synagogue the people of Nazareth are offended by him, saying, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" In his response Jesus goes out of his way to include his family among those who rejected him:

"Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." In the more original form of the saying there was no reference to the kin and the house, as is shown by Luke 4:24 and John 4:44.

The unbelief of the family is reciprocated by Jesus in Mark 3:31-35 where Jesus is made to completely reject his family. Jesus was sitting with a crowd when his mother and brothers, "standing outside, sent to him and called him". Upon receiving the message Jesus said: "Who are my mother and my brothers?" Then looking at those who sat around him, he says: "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." Here the family of Jesus is outside the circle of believers who do God's will. Also the family is rejected by Jesus. This story may reflect the historical fact that during his ministry Jesus' brothers and other family members did not accompany Jesus; they were not among those who were "around him". But this fact is used to exclude the family of Jesus from authentic Jesus movement. Perhaps in the rivalry between the family and others, it was sometimes said, to discredit the family members, that they were never around in the life of Jesus and possibly soon after Jesus' departure.

In John 7:1-9, near one of the Jewish festivals the brothers of Jesus tell him to go to Judea so that "your disciples also may see the works you are doing ... If you do these things, show yourself to the world." Here "the disciples" are presumably some people in Jerusalem. Jesus, who did not want to go about in Judea because Jews wanted to kill him, refuses by saying: "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil." But despite this refusal, after his brothers had gone to the festival, he also goes there in secret. In the editorial note in 7:5, we are told that Jesus' brothers did not believe in him. However, there is a difference in the disbelief of Jesus' brothers as it is represented in Mark and John. In Mark, Jesus' family is equated outright with those non-believing Jews who reject Jesus' claims. In John, on the other hand, the brothers belong to those Jews who believe and yet do not believe; they do not really know Jesus and do not really understand his mission and for this reason their belief in Jesus is not what it should be.

It is quite possible that Jesus' close relatives at some point did think that he was out of his mind and did not therefore "believe" in him. But it is also very plausible, as suggested by John 7:1-9, that after seeing Jesus' persistence, they became much more positively interested in his work.

But whether or not unbelief of the brothers is a historical fact, we cannot expect the gospels to mention it simply because it is a fact. If historicity of the brothers' unbelief forced tradition to mention it, then we should expect it at the same time to reflect the equally historical fact that at least James was a leading figure in the primitive church. If Paul tells us that after his resurrection Jesus appeared to James and the gospels make no mention of that appearance and have mostly negative things to say about the family, including James, then this can mean only that the canonical tradition came by and large to reject the family of Jesus for some reasons of its own.

 

THE EPISTLE OF JAMES

Fortunately, we have a document in the New Testament itself that enables us to understand why the gospel tradition rejected James and other members of Jesus' family. The Epistle of James is one of the most ignored books of the New Testament. Yet it may be one of the most valuable, since there is a good likelihood that it is substantially authentic.

Before considering the question of authenticity, it is necessary to form an idea of the epistle's contents.

It is one of the most remarkable facts about the epistle of James that it says nothing about Jesus beyond two bare references to the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1, 2:1). It never teaches any doctrine about Jesus, it nowhere refers to his words or deeds or to his death and resurrection. Even when there was an occasion to refer to Jesus' words or actions, it fails to do so. For example, in 5:10-11 it needs to mention "an example of suffering and patience." In many parts of the New Testament and non-canonical tradition such an example is quite understandably found in Jesus' suffering and obedience (e.g. 1 Thess 2:14-15, Mark 10:38-39, John 15:18-19, 1 Pet. 2:21-23), but James cites the example of the Old Testament "prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord" and of Job. Similarly, in 5:17-18, it needs to stress the power of prayer of faith and rather than use some of the sayings of Jesus and his miracles it refers to the fervent prayers of Elijah which first stopped rain and then brought it down.

Also, James refers to the imminent coming of the Lord and of the Judge standing at the door (5:7-9) but "the Lord" here, as in the subsequent verses ("the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord'" "you have seen the purpose of the Lord," "the Lord is compassionate and merciful" (5:10-11, see also, 1:7, 3:9, 4:10,15, 5:4, 14f.)) is certainly God himself. It, therefore, seems that originally James either did not mention Jesus at all or he was not referred to as Lord and Christ. It is quite possible that in the epistle the title "Lord" was originally used consistently for God. Even "Christ" may have been originally absent from the epistle, since there is nothing in the epistle apart from the two occurrences of "Christ" that suggests that Jesus is believed as the Messiah. James 1:1 originally might have, therefore, read:

James, a servant of God,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.

And James 2:1 might have read:

My brethren, show no partiality while believing in the Lord our glory (that is, God).

In this form, 2:1 fits better with its context. For, the verse demands some kind of demonstration why partiality is inconsistent with faith in the Lord. If we understand the Lord as God, such a demonstration is found in 2:8-9, which says that partiality is a transgression of the law of God. A later editor in an attempt to "christianize" the letter, that is, to introduce the belief in Jesus as the Lord and Christ considered it enough to add two references to "Lord Jesus Christ."

In James there is also no mention of such Christian practices as baptism and Eucharist. The religious outlook presented in it is not "a matter of participation in a charismatic movement, of initiation into esoteric knowledge, or of sacramental participation in the mystery of salvation. Primarily, it is a way of life before God, a moral code" (Sophie Laws, The Epistle of James, 33). Salvation comes from listening to, and acting upon, the implanted word of truth (1:18, 21). True religion is charity and detachment from the world (1:27). Trials and tribulations are not the signs of the impending judgment or the birth pangs of the messianic age but a means for achieving personal integrity (1:2-4). The epistle calls for humility before God, submission to him and total dependence on him (4:7, 10, 13-15). It exhorts for justice and honoring the poor (2:,2-7), loving the neighbor (2:8f.), taming the tongue (3:7-10), patience in suffering (5:7f.), and not judging others (4:11-12).

The epistle teaches that faith without works is dead (2:14-26). This teaching is probably formulated with acquaintance with, and in opposition to, the Pauline teaching of justification by faith alone. Both Paul (Rom. 3:22-28, 4:1-6, Gal. 3:6) and James use the same terms: faith, works and justification. They both use Gen 15:6 to arrive at their opposite conclusions. But although James probably intends to oppose Pauline doctrine, it is not really saying something that Paul would deny. For Paul's attack is not directed against good works but against works of the Law and "works of the Law" are also not prominent in James.

Regardless of whether or not the epistle of James is authentic, it may be used to form some idea of what James stood for, since its attribution to James seems to serve no special purpose and may mean only that it reflects an outlook similar to the one actually held by James. Many letters purported to be written by Paul but not actually written by him do reflect his thought. But we can go further and argue for the authenticity of the epistle.

At one time it was asserted that the Greek of the epistle is too good to be attributed to a Galilean Jew like James and that some of its phrases ('the cycle of nature,' 'wheel of birth' and 'the implanted word' are akin to the Hellenistic religious terminology). But it is now clear that Greek was widely used in Palestine in the first century and therefore many Palestinian Jews, including James could have been well versed in that language and the thought and culture that it carried. Large number of ossuaries (stone or wooden boxes into which bones were placed one year after the initial burial) have been discovered in Palestine, most of them with inscriptions. Only a quarter of the inscriptions which date from 200 B.C.E. to 100 C.E. are in Hebrew or Aramaic. Two thirds are in Greek alone. Also, in 1931 a Greek theatre was discovered in Sephoris, a city which was 3 miles north of Nazareth and which was chosen by Herod Antipas in 3 B.C.E. as his capital for Galilee. Initially the theatre was dated to the second century C.E. but now to the time of Jesus. Thus Greek was much more widely used in Palestine around the time of Jesus than previously supposed. There is no reason to exclude the possibility that Jesus and/or James knew Greek and some Greek ideas. In case of James this possibility is enhanced since he had moved to the cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem.

Another argument against the authenticity of the epistle is based on the observation that it lacks almost all the distinctive marks of Christianity as we can determine from the rest of the New Testament. Such an argument is used, for example, by Martin Luther, who, in his Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude, denies that James is the work of an apostle because it rejects the Pauline position of justification of faith alone and because "it is the office of a true apostle to preach of the Passion and resurrection and office of Christ, and to lay the foundation of faith in him" (Luther's Works, Vol. 35, ed. E. Theodore Bachmann, Philadelphia, 1960, p. 360). Such an argument makes certain religious presumptions on the basis of which a historical judgment is passed, clearly an unacceptable procedure.

The lack of distinctive marks of Christianity in James is also used by some modern scholars to reject the authenticity of the epistle. Some even suggest that it was originally not a Christian document at all, but a Jewish one and that a couple of references to Jesus Christ were interpolated to bring it into Christian use. Yet, as noted by Sophie Laws (op. cit. p.1) "if this were so, it would still be remarkable that the added veneer should be so thin."

It is of course true that James is not Christian in the sense in which the term came to be understood. But in that sense Jesus himself was not a Christian, as is often noted. Moreover, in Mark 3:31-35 James along with other members of Jesus' family is presented as standing "outside" the circle of Jesus' followers and is disowned by him. Should we not expect such a person to write what does not look like Christianity? If in the name of Jesus there could develop some of the Gnostic brands of Christianity that we find in the Nag Hamadi documents, it should not be surprising to find that there was a Christian group that produced James.

But even though the epistle of James stands apart from the rest of the New Testament just as James himself stands outside the circle of the gospel's Jesus, the epistle is certainly closer to what can be determined with reasonable probability about Jesus' own thought from our sources than any other document we possess. It expresses in its own way the same message that we find on the lips of Jesus in the earlier layers of tradition. In particular, its call for repentance to a life of submission and humility before God and faith and dependence on him recalls early sayings of Jesus in Mark and Q; its stress on mercy and justice without rejection of the law corresponds to Jesus' own attitude as presented in the gospels; its expectation of an imminent kingdom of God in which Jesus has no special role as the Messiah or something else is also consistent with what can be concluded about Jesus' own preaching on the basis of critical examination of the gospel tradition; and thought of Jesus' death and resurrection is expected to be as far removed from Jesus' own mind as it is from James' epistle. Many of the specific elements of teachings of James also find correspondence with those in the teaching of Jesus as reported by the gospels. Compare, for example, the following words of James:

My brethren, whenever you face any trials, consider it nothing but joy ... (1:2). As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets ... (5:10). ... let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be perfect and complete (1:4). If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, ... and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting ... (1:5). For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look themselves in a mirror ... But those who look into the prefect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act -- they will be blessed in their doing (1:23, 25). For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it (2:10). Has not God chosen the poor ... to be heirs of the kingdom ...? (2:5) For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment (2:13) And a harvest of righteousness is shown in peace for those who make peace (3:18) Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (4:4) So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor? (4:12) Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches are rotten and your clothes are moth-eaten (5:1-2). Above all, my brethren, do not swear ..., but let your "Yes" be yes and your "No" be no ...(5:12). My brethren, ... whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save his soul ... (5:18).

with the following words of Jesus as reported in the gospels:

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt. 5:12=Luke 6:23 (Q)). Be perfect ... (Matt 5:48). Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. ... And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand (Matt 7:24, 26). Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments ... will be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:19). Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive (Matt. 21:22=Mark 11:24). Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20=Matt. 5:3 (Q)). Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (5:5) Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matt 5:7). Blessed are the peacemakers... Matt 5:9). If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, ... therefore the world hates you (John 15:19). Do not judge, and you will not be judged (Luke 6:37=Matt. 7:1 (Q)). But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation (Luke 6:24). Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume ... (Matt. 6:19=Luke 12:33 (Q)). If a brother sins ..., go and point out the fault when two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained the brother (Matt. 18:15).

Thus although James is not Christian in the New Testament sense, it would be perfectly at home in a tradition that continued the work of Jesus. Indeed, one can say that James expresses essentially the same outlook in balanced prose that we find in the sayings of Jesus expressed in dramatic and hyperbolic language.

The authenticity of James is also questioned on the basis of some institutional features along with an absence of charismatic elements and stress on collective behavior. Thus James assumes an organized church (5:14) in which there seem to be meetings (2:2ff.) and there are teachers and elders (3:1, 5:14). The supernatural healing is effected through the elders whereas in earlier time the power to heal and work miracles was possessed by believers indiscriminately (1 Cor. 12:13f.). But our knowledge of "earlier or apostolic time" is based mostly on Paul's letters which may not reflect the sort of organizational structure that existed in the Jewish churches such as the Jerusalem church. But even in Paul one finds such institutional features as we find in James with the exception of the role of the elders (1 Cor. 14:34, Eph 5:34 etc). Moreover, the level of organizational development may not be linear in time. Thus the word ecclesia (church) is not found in the gospels except in Matthew (16:17-18, 18:17), but it is found much earlier in Paul (1 Cor 14:34, Eph 5:34). The mention of elders in James in fact supports the authenticity of the epistle. Acts speaks of elders in 11:30, 15:2, 4, 6, 22f., 16:4, 21:18. With the exception of 11:30, all these references are closely connected with James and even in 11:30 the story of Acts is probably at the stage when James had complete dominance in the Jerusalem church. Such an exclusive connection of the term with James suggests that he might well have organized his church by gathering around him a body of elders along the pattern provided by the synagogue government (Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, p. 109). The absence of charismatic features may be explained by the fact that James was not a charismatic person, as is shown by the fact that Acts attributes mighty miracles to Peter and Paul but not to James. But even if such features do indicate a late date, they are balanced by indications of an early date such as the expectation of an imminent coming of God's judgment and of lack of any dependence on other known Christian writings, and, indeed, lack of almost all features of the emerging catholic Christian faith. The absence of a reference to James' martyrdom in 62 C.E. is also an indication of an early date. The statement in 5:6 refers neither to the execution of Jesus nor of James but of innocent men generally as is brought out in the Jerusalem Bible, Living Bible, New International Version and Phillips Modern English translation.

Yet another basis for rejecting the essential authenticity of the epistle is found in the fact that Hegesippus, a Palestinian who wrote about James, does not mention it and it was only slowly received into the canon. But if the canonical gospels ignore James or present him in a negative light, is it surprising that the church tended to ignore his letter as well? Only after James was thoroughly christianized by traditions like those mentioned by Hegesippus did the Christians feel comfortable enough with his epistle to accept it.

It may also be objected that Acts (15:13-21, 21:18-24) and Galatians (2:12) present James as one who attached great importance to the Jewish law, especially in cultic matters but in the Epistle the cultic law receives no importance. But we have no reason to prefer the testimony of Acts over that of James, and Galatians does not give us enough details: we are only told that arrival of certain men from James made Peter return to the practice of the Jewish cultic law, but it is not necessary that these men from James exactly represented the attitude of James himself. Moreover, James could have believed that justice and mercy are far more important than the cultic law and yet considered the cultic law important enough to be defended against its undermining by Paul.

The reason for writing the epistle seems to be to define for Greek-speaking Jewish followers of James the basis of their faith which was Jesus' heritage: an expectation of the coming of the Lord (=God) and an ethical and righteous life of faith in preparation for it. In addressing the twelve tribes in the Diaspora, James may be contesting the claim of the twelve to be the leaders of the Jewish Christians. It is James as the head of the Jerusalem church and legitimate successor of Jesus who has the authority to address the twelve tribes both inside and outside Palestine. The term Diaspora normally means Jews living outside Palestine but it can also refer to Christians generally because they are away from their true home in heaven (cf. Phil 3:20).

Thus there is no strong reason to reject the authenticity of the epistle. At the same time there is no reasonable explanation for why it was produced and why it was circulated in the name of James other than that it was written by him, possibly through a secretary. This leads us to the surprising conclusion that James the brother of Jesus probably did not believe in the death, resurrection and messiahship of Jesus, which is the reason why he and other members of Jesus' family were disowned by the church except after he was duly christianized (see Ch. 3). We cannot avoid this conclusion by the argument that James does not mention the basic Christian beliefs because it was written for a particular purpose which did not require such a mention. James is addressed to the twelve tribes in dispersion and not to a particular Jesus community with a particular concerns. We should therefore expect the letter to express the central message as understood by James. Other New Testament letters of comparable length, though written to more specific communities or individuals in order to address more specific needs, all mention the beliefs that came to define Christianity.

 

JAMES AND THE GALILEAN CHURCH

Jesus for the most part seems to have carried his work in Galilee, as is indicated by the synoptic gospels. One should therefore expect a church to exist after him in Galilee and from Acts 9:31 we do learn of the existence of such a church. But beyond a bare acknowledgement of its existence Acts tells us nothing about the church in Galilee. This is no doubt because Acts is committed to the view that the church started in Jerusalem. However, from other sources we can glean some information about the Galilean church. One such source is the mission discourses found in all the synoptics. Matthew 10, composed mostly from Mark and Q, gives us the most extensive discourse. A remarkable feature of these discourses is that the disciples are instructed only to preach the nearness of the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. There is no mention of the death, resurrection and messiahship of Jesus, as we find in the preaching of the apostles in Acts. This may mean that the mission discourses in the synoptics are not the creations of the church but go back in substance to Jesus. But the mission sayings were preserved because they were used by the church in its missionary work and it is still remarkable that the church, if it everywhere and always preached the death, resurrection and messiahship of Jesus, did not add any reference about its central message. It is thus possible that mission sayings were preserved and/or created in a Galilean church which, after Jesus, simply continued his two-fold work: preaching the imminent kingdom of God and healing the sick. James the brother of Jesus may have been the early head of this Galilean church, which was distinct from the church founded by the twelve on the basis of the belief in the messiahship of Jesus. This is supported by the following pre-Pauline tradition about Jesus' "appearances":

"[Christ] appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve"

"Then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles"

It has long been recognized that these two traditions reflect two rival claims. One on behalf of Peter and the twelve and the other on behalf of James and all the apostles. Originally, "the apostles" were men in Galilee who carried the mission in accordance with the instructions in some early forms of the synoptic mission sayings.

Furthermore, the Epistle of James, although written many years after the start of the initial mission in Galilee to instruct the members of the church rather than to carry a mission, nevertheless reflects in the main the direction indicated by the mission sayings:

1) Like the mission sayings, the Epistle talks of the kingdom and the nearness of the coming of God or his kingdom or his judgment. Thus some of the mission sayings read:

As you go, proclaim the good news, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 10:5). Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand (Luke 10:11).

If anyone will not welcome you ... it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town (Matt 10:14-15=Luke 10:12 (Q))

And the Epistle says:

... the kingdom that [God] has promised ... (James 2:5)

Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord (=God) is at hand... See the Judge is standing at the doors! (5:8-9).

2) Like the mission sayings, the Epistle talks of healing the sick. In the mission sayings we read that the apostles

... cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them (Mark 6:13).

And the Epistle says:

Are any of you sick? They should call the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:18)

The epistle is assuming a situation of a large church and therefore talks of the elders of the church. In the early days of the Galilean mission the missionaries, traveling in small groups, upon entering a place, probably healed the sick that they found there by praying over them and anointing them with oil.

3) Like the mission sayings, the epistle also has no reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus and only a most superficial and probably secondary reference to the messiahship of Jesus in the mere use of the name "Christ."

Thus there was a brand of Galilean Jesus tradition which James represented and which was also reflected in the earliest Jesus mission in Galilee. This brand talked about the imminent coming of the kingdom of God, of healing the sick but did not preach the death, resurrection and messiahship of Jesus. (For a fuller explanation of the mission sayings see Ch. 31.)

 

What defined Jesus people?

In view of the radically different views in the three most important and the earliest Jesus groups, the question arises as to what distinguished Jesus groups from other Jewish groups? A related question is, "what holds the New Testament together?" (John Reumann, Variety and Unity in New Testament Thought, 3).

For the question about the New Testament, the answer is this: "belief in Jesus Christ" with "Jesus Christ" as no more than a name and "belief" as no more than an intention to stay in that name holds the Christian scriptures together. When we go to the period before the New Testament and seek an answer to the first question, we need to drop "Christ" and the answer we arrive at is this: use of Jesus story, which had a life of its own. Here "use" may be either in the form of exploiting blood relation and/or using some elements of the story to support one's point of view. If there was anything common between the earliest Jesus groups beyond the fact that they all used the story of Jesus, it is probably the belief in the eschatological kingdom either of God or of the Messiah or of the Son of Man without necessarily any identification of Jesus with the Messiah or the Son of Man.

In summary, after Jesus' departure there emerged three main groups. Within two months some anti-temple Hellenists began to use in an enthusiastic way the story of Jesus, presenting him as a prophet who was martyred by the temple authorities for his rejection of the temple cult. The Pentecostal coming of the Spirit marks this start of the Jesus movement among the Hellenists in Jerusalem through an enthusiastic preaching.

At about the same time the twelve and some of Jesus' relatives, especially Jesus' brother James began to carry an organized mission in Galilee. The twelve preached that Jesus was alive and would soon return as the Messiah. James and presumably other relatives of Jesus simply continued the preaching started by Jesus in which the person of Jesus was not important, only the coming kingdom of God and moral demands implied by it were important. However, the twelve and Jesus' relatives saw no more success in Galilee than did Jesus and they soon moved to Jerusalem which provided contact with Jews from all parts of Palestine and beyond. First to move were probably the twelve.

By the time the twelve arrived in Jerusalem, the Hellenists were already facing tremendous pressure from other Jews because of their opposition to the temple cult. The Hellenists expected support from the twelve against their enemies but the twelve were not even willing to help their widows with food. Perhaps the twelve demanded sole leadership of the Jesus movement on the grounds that they were his disciples. But the Hellenists were unable to accept that leadership because of the tremendous differences of outlook that existed between the two groups. In any case, very soon after the arrival of the twelve the more conservative Hellenists and the temple authorities executed Stephen and persecuted his group out of Jerusalem. This, however, did not eliminate the Hellenist Jesus followers. After leaving Jerusalem they started a mission outside Jerusalem meeting considerable success among the Samaritans who also rejected the temple in Jerusalem. The twelve also started a mission outside Jerusalem, often following the Hellenists and countering their influence as far as they could. In this way there existed for a while two rival missions.

Finally there arrived in Jerusalem James and other relatives of Jesus. They claimed the leadership of the Jesus movement on the basis of their blood relation with Jesus which had a strong appeal among Jews. James succeeds and in Jerusalem the leadership passes to him, making the twelve concentrate more on missions outside Jerusalem. James' message was quite similar to that of Jesus himself. In particular, he did not believe in the death, resurrection or messiahship of Jesus, which is the reason that despite his towering stature in the early church in Jerusalem he is reduced to a nobody in the gospel tradition, which is largely based on those beliefs.

Many years after the emergence of the church, we see the three early Jesus groups or their successors having an encounter in a brief episode alluded to by Paul in Galatians. In Antioch Peter used to eat with the Gentiles until men from James arrive and dissuade him from the practice. Paul rebukes Peter for ignoring "the truth of the gospel." The Stephenite Hellenists are now replaced by Paul, though with radically different views. Peter and James, of course, represent respectively the twelve and the relatives of Jesus, with doubtless some changes in their outlook as well. In this little episode we see that while the three groups now have dealings with one another some tensions still remain between them. Paul and men of James are on completely opposite sides but Peter is hesitating somewhere in the middle, but decidedly closer to James.

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