Early Christianity: James the Just
“Faith without works is dead.” – James the Just
James the Just is one of the three pillars of the early church, the other two being Simon Peter [https://gooseberrybush.wordpress.com/2010/10/16/] and the Apostle Paul. James has little to do with this website [http://www.jamesthejust.com/], just for your information, but I think ancient swords are wicked cool. Check it out.
James was, depending on which church tradition you choose to believe, either the brother, stepbrother, or cousin of Jesus. Just what relation he was has to do with church doctrine and different interpretations of certain Greek and Aramaic words and phrases. I won’t get into that here since that’s for way smarter people than me to debate. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches’ official theology says that Mary remained a virgin until her death, which in part explains the stepbrother and cousin theories. I could get started on the sexual politics inherent in that belief, but I’ll reign myself in just this once.
Not much is known of James the Just, so there’s not much to tell, and the most interesting thing about his existence was the controversy surrounding whether or not he was actually Jesus’ brother and the son of Mary. James was called James the Just because he was especially righteous, or pious. He ministered to the Jews, and he is generally recognized as being the church’s first bishop. The seat of the church at that time was in Jerusalem, and he would have been the superior of both Peter and Paul, although to read the Bible that was written maybe thirty or forty years later one would hardly guess he’d played a role.
James is not one of the two disciples of Jesus named James. He is, however, regarded by church tradition to be the author of the book of James. This means that although he was never explicitly defined as such in the book itself, early church fathers assigned the book’s authorship to James the Just. Many modern scholars believe it to be written after the death of James the Just. Evangelicals generally regard it to be the work of James the Just. The book of James, though, is generally regarded to be “…a Christian revision of a Jewish work,” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_of_James] and since James the Just was described as a pious Jew this seems to lead credence to his authorship.
We know that James was a married man and that he was a Jew who continued to observe all facets of Jewish law, including diet. There’s an instance in Galatians [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+2&version=NIV] when James comes to visit Peter where he is ministering to the Gentiles. Peter had been eating “unclean” food with the Gentiles, but when James made his visit he quickly got up from the table and insisted that Christians should be kosher, in a show of hypocrisy that Paul later called him out on.
From the fact that there’s not much talk of the outcome of that showdown, we can probably safely assume that James sided with Peter on that one. James probably believed that they weren’t starting their own religion so much as they were reforming Judaism and that being a good Jew was intrinsic to being a good Christian.
As far as I’m concerned, James the Just is the greatest argument that we have for Christianity. Think about it. James was Jesus’ brother. This means that whether he was an older brother or a younger brother, he undoubtedly observed his brother in his daily life. They probably had the same sibling rivalries as any other two brothers. He saw Jesus fall and skin his knee, heard him fart, and watched him pick his nose and maybe soil his diapers. Yet this same man picked up the torch for his brother and carried on his beliefs and his ministry after Jesus ascended to heaven. He died for his brother’s faith. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but although I love my brother I wouldn’t perpetuate a massive deceit of this scale for him.
The most amazing thing we have in the Christian faith is the hope in the resurrection. People rising from the dead is nothing new. There are stories stretching back into antiquity of people coming back from the dead, Lazarus among them. Today people return from their deathbeds with a shock from the paddles. But Jesus was the first man to resurrect himself. And he remains the only man to have done so.
It’s a pretty heady proposition; it’s a bold and audacious claim, not only that your brother is the Son of God and the Messiah but that you know that he came back to life from the dead. Now, if you were James, and any of that weren’t true, wouldn’t you, at some point, while the masses were throwing stones at you, scream through the arms protecting your face, that this was all a farce.
“Wait! Stop! I admit it. He was my brother, and this is all nothing but a hoax. Son of God, poppycock! He shit just like everyone else. Please! Listen to me! I renounce him. Let me live.”
But no. What James the Just did instead was to die by stoning, for his beliefs that his brother Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, and that he had come to save us from all our sins and was resurrected. And while they stoned him, he said, “I beseech Thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”