Tuesday, January 19, 2010

James and the Canon

James 1:1 (ESV)
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

James. Luther liked the book, but didn’t find it to be apostolic. That is he would not admit it into his canon. I am one that sides with him. Crucial to this question is the question of authorship. If it wasn’t written by an apostle, or wasn’t given apostolic approval then it just is not binding on Christians. So the debate raged over James from the time it was written up until now. Eusebius the first church historian casts doubt on its origin, but allows it to be included with the canon as “antilegoumena.’ That is a book spoken against, from which no doctrine can be drawn. It can be supported from these questionable writings, but cannot find it’s seat from there. This was the official stance of the whole church until the Council of Trent, where the church of Rome, who in no way finds itself bound to scripture as long as it has a pope to dictate doctrine, decided to vote it into the canon. They did this because it is the one place in the Bible where you will see it say that man is “Justified by works and not faith alone.” (James 2: 24).
However, one cannot just decide that a book is in the canon. It doesn’t work that way. We might decide any book is part of the canon if we allow that decision to stand. What then separates us from Mormons? Majority vote in a one sided council is not the basis for including a book in the canon. Especially if the only reason your doing it is so that you can find a bit of ammo to shoot at the other side with, and they do shoot this bullet often. Either the book has its authority in itself, or it doesn’t. The church does not decide what is in and out of the canon, otherwise the church is not led by God’s word, but the church leads concerning what is and isn’t God’s word. It just can’t work that way. It casts doubt on Scripture. We might get the impression that it was up to men to decide what is and isn’t God’s word. You can see where that might lead someone, Salt Lake City by way of Nauvoo.
Of course James isn’t the only questioned book. Hebrews falls shy of canon too! So does 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. There are other books that were not written by apostles, but have been included in the canon because they were approved of by apostles, such it is with Luke and Acts, as well as Mark. But these others we are a bit unsure of. They cannot be binding when it comes to doctrine, they must be held in submission to other books.
Today this sounds scandalous, but either the distinction is maintained or God’s word becomes a wax nose. I also find that those who accept James and Revelation into their canon unequivocally end up with a two book canon. That is, James and Revelation become the two books by which the rest of scripture is judged.
Paul and James can be reconciled. If they could not then James would not have made it on any canonical lists as a questioned book or otherwise. But James must be held in submission to Paul. You cannot read him in any way that would contradict what Paul wrote, or hold Paul in submission to James. And it may be best if most didn’t read him at all. That said I will be commenting on this book, and reconciling what he says to what Paul says. Though showing why it is questionable all the while.


Frank Sonnek said...

I can hardly wait!

Larry said...


You know this brave ground you tread upon, but I think worthy of treading. As I told my wife, “Be careful you have not made a new pope of your bible only for the cannon of Scripture was not directly written by the finger of God in Lifeway Publishing House”. That is scandalous to say because it sounds like you “don’t want to listen to the Word of God”. But it could not be more contrary, I do, it’s not QUESTIONING God’s Word but what actually CONSTITUTES God’s Word that is crucial.

I saw more than one time in my SB days when we’d go on a mission or evangelism outing to Utah (Salt Lake and Provo) or local Mormon areas KY – a Mormon stop a Baptist dead in his tracks on “faith alone” by quoting James 2:24 on them. They pull James 2:24 out like a gun on you. It was hard to argue with, “it says it right there in the bible”.

Even when one begins defending James’s 2:24 “Justified by works and not faith alone”, you find yourself saying “well the words there really mean…” and that sounds an awful lot like sacramentarians defending their doctrine of the “Lord’s Supper” memorial only (Baptist), sign/symbol (Calvinist). “This is My body/blood…” – “Well the words there really mean…”


Bror Erickson said...

Yes Larry,
It isn't bravery it is necessity that makes me tread here. I'm absolutely serious. I cannot afford to put James on the same level as Romans, Matthew, Luke, etc. I can't afford this with Hebrews either. I like Hebrews. I have serious doctrinal qualms with James. But I can't afford it. Either the book carries it's own authority by authorship, or it doesn't. We can't make something scripture. It can't be voted in. No council can decide that, which is why Nicea didn't. If the church has the power to vote something into canon, then the bible becomes subject to the church, not the church the Bible. This is a serious problem today in the Roman Catholic church. Baptists tend to be to ignorant to even recognize the problem but it is there too.
I'm actually expecting more debate here. But so far just disappointed. I look forward to debate and discussion. Not angry argument, but debate. Somethings are worth debating. Sometimes when people shy away from debate, I wonder if it even matters to them, any of it.

Larry said...

Oh I take it very serious on this issue. It's one I've pondered from a laymen's side myself. I always wondered or found it a bit astonishing that Paul's letter to the Corinthian church (specifically the first one) was dealing with a similar fundamental problem as was James's letter. Basically these divisions of folks, some better than others. In fact Paul was dealing with more gross sin in Corinth.

But what stands out is the stark difference in how each addresses the similar issue.

In short James ends up saying one is not justified by faith alone but works, yet Paul ends up pointing back to the problem being that they don't assess the flesh and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper. One goes to the works (James) no matter how you slice it, the other the the Gospel (the Lord's Supper - Paul).

It's always been a rather easily seen stark contrast when you read the letters side by side.



Anonymous said...

Hey Bror, I remember when Prof. Marquart first brought this up at sem, it really through for a loop! And then when Dr. Gieschen said the Mark 16 ending was not in the Bible, it shook my faith.

But, now I think it needs to be discussed, due to the 'biblicism' that abounds in the Church. But, the question remains, how does one teach this without going down the road to denial of the teachings of Christ, like the ELCA with the Bible contains the Word of the Lord.

If James is not on the same level as Galatians, that is only your interpretation, et cetera. You know what I mean. It opens the proverbial can of worms. Thanks for bringing this up.

BTW, speaking of Gieschen since Codex Sinaiticus is the 'almost end all' of some exegetes, why isn't the Shepherd of Hermas in the modern Bible. It was in Sinaiticus.


Frank Sonnek said...

"how does one teach this without going down the road to denial of the teachings of Christ, like the ELCA with the Bible contains the Word of the Lord."

We trust The Truth wherever it takes us.

I used to think it was not wise to bring this up except with christians who are well grounded enough to understand this.

Now I am of a different mind, those who understand this are not shaken when someone questions the authority of scripture by bringing this up as fact.

They can respond as in "Ok. I know that. so your point is?" and then show how faith in Christ should not be challenged by these facts. I have been able to help more than one ex-evangelical turning liberal evangelical on this point.

Frank Sonnek said...

I think though that we CAN reconcile James to the rest of scripture and we should.

It is a better strategy than just saying "well, I dont think it is really part of the canon. But I cannot really argue with brother christians who elect to follow a different stragegy.

The point needs to be about serving our neighbor. Here this means probably getting to know someone well enough before we start spouting off and sparring to be able to truly be able to help.

I know that if I listened for a long while and asked questions sincerely trying to learn what that other person believes and why, they will not only be more open to listening to me, what I then have to say to them will hit the proper mark far more elegantly.

pray for me that I learn and strive to acquire this discipline.

Bror Erickson said...

You know how Dan Brown alleged that the Council of Nicea decided what was in the canon and not? Well this is the answer to that. The Council didn't. The church was not their to decide. In fact the church was so indecisive in some books that it didn't know what to do. Yet it was certain with some, and less with others. Actually the idea that we can decide what is scripture and what isn't by popular voted leads us to the ELCA, making the books prove themselves on their own merits, and thus retain their authority over he church in the cases of books like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Pauline Corpus, keeps us from going down the road of the ELCA. Nothing the church has ever taught as dogma comes from James alone.
And reading the Shepherd of Hermes should be enough to through it out. Was for me. Can't make heads or tails of it. Worse than James.

Anonymous said...

Of course I was joking about the Shepherd of Hermas. My only point was that it was in the Codex Sinaiticus. Stu