Welcome to the fourth day/second week of our blog tour for Craig A. Evans’ From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation. A week ago I commented on the Introduction. Then on Wednesday John Walker reviewed Chapter 1, “Did Jesus Intend to Found a Church?” Jessica Parks rounded off week 1 with her thoughts on Chapter 2, “From Kingdom of God to Church of Christ”. Our pace will be picking up this week as we’ll have entries Monday through Friday (see the full schedule). [Also, though not officially part of this tour, Jennifer Guo has already posted a full review which can be read here.]
Chapter 3 of Evans’ book is titled “James as Leader of the Jesus Community”. In gist, it seeks to answer this question: How did James, Jesus’ brother, a figure who the Gospels portray as someone who didn’t follow Jesus during his pre-Easter ministry, become the leader of the Church in Jerusalem?” Evans presents in shortened form the reasons for why we think James was not a pre-Easter follower of Jesus (p. 59) suggesting that his “experience of the risen Christ” accounts for why he became a post-Easter follower (p. 59). We see from Paul’s writings (1 Cor. 15:5-7) that quite early James was a central figure in the early Church (p. 59) and that later literature like The Gospel of the Hebrews (a full list is given on p. 62) seem to have contained hagiographical traditions about James and his experience of the post-Easter Jesus (pp. 59-61, 63).
Evans explores what it may have meant for James to be considered a “pillar” in the Church, investigating how this relates to the idea of the Church as the eschatological Temple (pp. 61-63). This proves somewhat ironic since one thing we know about James is that he seems to have been the most Temple-friendly of the early Christian leaders, which may be why James could remain in Jerusalem when people like Peter had to flee and Paul risked his life visiting. This is Evans’ suggestion: when Peter and the other apostles had to flee Acts 12:17b may contain a tradition that points to Peter handing over leadership to James, knowing James could remain (p. 65).
Of course, James plays a central role during the Jerusalem Council (pp. 66-70) and according to Acts James is the one whose instructions to Paul seem to have been aimed at making Paul’s presence palatable to the Jerusalem Jews (maybe more precisely Jewish Christians, but maybe broader). Paul ran into trouble nevertheless, but not because of James (pp. 70-74).
This difference between James in Jerusalem and Paul in the Gentile world prepares Evans to transition to Chapter 4, “Phinehan Zeal and Works of the Law: What Paul and James Are Really Saying” (to be reviewed by Abram K-J tomorrow). Evans outlines where he plans to go with the next chapter discussing faith-works language in Paul and James and summarizing what he thinks this means. For a more detailed exploration see the aforementioned review of Chapter 4 forthcoming.
Personally, I agree with Evans that the best explanation for James’ conversion would be his experience of the resurrected Christ (remember: experience doesn’t prove the reality, though I’d affirm the reality as well). I’ve heard it suggested that the Evangelists paint Jesus’ family as non-believers prior to Easter as a way of minimizing the holy family to emphasize Jesus’ teachings that his true family as those who follow him (suggesting James may have been a pre-Easter follower), but I find this improbable since I don’t see why the same message couldn’t be conveyed without “inventing” a depiction of Jesus’ family as having problems with Jesus’ teachings and actions. Evans doesn’t touch on this theory at all.
Evans’ study of how later Christian understood James, and how Acts depicts James, forces us to reckon with the fact that somehow James became central to the early Church. James does seem to have been more Temple-friendly that Peter, Paul, et al., which may explain why he was able to stay in Jerusalem when others had to flee. But enough from me! See Abram K-J’s discussion tomorrow since Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 are two parts to one discussion.
This book was received from Westminster John Knox Press in exchange for a bias free review