UnApologetic

Christian Theology and Apologetics

A Historical Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: Part 4

James the Skeptical. There is biblical evidence that James (Jesus’ brother) was not actually a follower of Christ early on. When Christ traveled back to his home a large crowd assembled to hear him teach. Those close to him (presumably his brothers or disciples) come to take custody of him because they believe he has lost his senses (Mk 3:20-21).[1] R. T. France remarks, “If the disciples are with Jesus in the house, they could not ‘go out’ to seize him, nor is the idea of the disciples manhandling Jesus one which easily fits into the Marcan account so far. Still less is it possible to imagine them thinking him insane.” [2] Some have suggested that v. 21 “He has lost His senses” should be interpreted as “amazed.” There is some support for this interpretation; the term ἐξίστημι is often translated as “amazed, astonished, or beside.”[3] But it must be said that though this interpretation is indeed possible, it is not probable. The reason for this is simple; if Jesus became “amazed” there is no explanation as to why his people attempted to seize him after the fact. In the end, the best interpretation is the simplest one. Jesus’ family, likely his brothers, to include James wished to seize him to spare his and the family’s reputation.

Another passage depicts the disbelief of Jesus’ family. Mark 6:2-4 mentions Jesus in the synagogue teaching on the Sabbath to a crowd that takes offense to his teaching. The crowd responds to Christ’s teaching with the statement, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?”[4] Jesus’ response to their offense, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.”[5] The term “household, οἰκία” also connotes relatives by blood or marriage.[6] Thus likely the correct interpretation is that Jesus perceived disbelief among his hometown and immediate family. The sisters of Christ are the only ones explicitly stated to be present, however this does not necessitate the non-presence of James and the others. The mention of the sisters is for highlighting the apparent nature of their offense. The offense was so manifestly apparent that even the sisters of Jesus could see it. Thus, if they could see the offense, surely everyone else could as well.

Yet another passage depicting disbelief among Jesus family is John 7:1-5:

ΚΑΙ ΜΕΤΑ ΤΑΥΤΑ περιεπάτει [ὁ] Ἰησοῦς ἐν τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ, οὐ γὰρ ἤθελεν ἐν τῇ          Ἰουδαίᾳ περιπατεῖν, ὅτι ἐζήτουν αὐτὸν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἀποκτεῖναι.2 ἦν δὲ ἐγγὺς ἡ ἑορτὴ τῶν Ἰουδαίων ἡ σκηνοπηγία.3 εἶπον οὖν πρὸς αὐτὸν οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτοῦ Μετάβηθι ἐντεῦθεν καὶ ὕπαγε εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν, ἵνα καὶ οἱ μαθηταί σου θεωρήσουσιν [σοῦ] τὰ ἔργα ἃ ποιεῖς·4 οὐδεὶς γάρ τι ἐν κρυπτῷ ποιεῖ καὶ ζητεῖ αὐτὸς ἐν παρρησίᾳ εἶναι· εἰ ταῦτα ποιεῖς, φανέρωσον σεαυτὸν τῷ κόσμῳ.5 οὐδὲ γὰρ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπίστευον εἰς αὐτόν.[7]

1 After these things Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him.2 Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near.3 Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing.4 “For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.”5 For not even His brothers were believing in Him.

The above passage displays the incredulity of Jesus’ brothers very well. In fact, they taunted Christ to reveal his works to his disciples and the world; clearly they were unbelieving at this point and v. 5 makes this known. John uses the term “Your works, τὰ ἔργα” in a deleterious sense.[8] Hence, Christ’s brothers had no faith in him at this point. An additional point that can be made here is that Christ was unwilling to go to Judea because the Jews there wanted to kill him (v. 1); this is the very city his brothers taunted him to show his works to the world. The Feast of Tabernacles (booths) was near, which explains why his brothers urged him to go down to Jerusalem at this time; there would be crowds and more would see him there. Another possibility is that the brothers of Jesus were ignorant of the threats to Jesus’ life; if this is the case, then the brothers were genuine in their insistence that Jesus go to Jerusalem to showcase his works. They were present during Jesus first reported miracle—turning water into wine—in John 2:12. Though this interpretation is possible, it seems less likely as they were still unbelieving at this time (v. 5). Thus, I am more persuaded that the brothers were taunting Christ. More support for this understanding comes from the Jesus’ negative response in vv. 7-9; he retorts emphasizing that the world does not hate them (his brothers), but it does hate him, because of his testimony against it. Thus, Jesus’ brothers were not receptive of Jesus’ message. This is why the world does not hate them (v. 7); they do not bring the message of Christ. Regardless of their intentions, Jesus’ brothers were unbelieving at the time as indicated by the text and this is precisely why James is of interest in this inquiry—he was skeptical, yet reportedly converted at some later point.

Jesus’ brothers were not sympathetic towards their elder brother. Just as his younger brothers insisted earlier, Christ goes to Jerusalem as part of his very public ministry. It is there he is crucified. It is interesting that his brothers are not mentioned at Christ’s crucifixion; it may be the case that they were not even in Jerusalem. They may have not traveled to support a ministry they didn’t believe in. It must be said, that this is merely speculation; I do not wish to attempt to prove a point by arguing from silence. That being said, what is mentioned at the crucifixion scene is of importance. While hanging on the cross Jesus said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” and to his beloved disciple, “Behold, your mother!”[9] This is significant because the disciple (John) did not have any legal claim to take care of Mary. It seems that Jesus regarded his spiritual family as taking precedence over his family by blood.[10] It must be said, that if Jesus’ brothers were present and believing, then surely the eldest would have taken responsibility over their mother. Thus, it is reasonably concluded that at the time of the crucifixion, Jesus’ brothers were unbelieving.

Of the texts examined so far, it has been demonstrated reasonably that Jesus’ brothers were not among his disciples during his earthly ministry. His brothers taunted him regarding his ministry and were unbelieving. This lack of belief among Jesus own close family members qualifies for criterion of embarrassment; that is to say, if the gospel narratives relating to Jesus’ life, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension were manufactured, the authors could have done a better job as making Christ’s family members doubtful hardly inspires faith in anyone. Sans resurrection, the brothers were skeptics, but we will see that posterior to this miraculous event, the brothers are counted among Christ’s followers.

Shortly after the resurrection of Christ Jesus’ brothers are counted among his followers. In fact, they were among the 120 that were filled with the Holy Spirit during Pentecost. “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”[11] Clearly something had changed their hearts and minds. Not only did the brothers believe, but one rose to prominence in the church. James became a great authority in the Jerusalem Church. In fact, after the Apostle Peter is rescued from prison he asks a household to report the matter to James and the brethren. In an early dispute regarding Gentile converts it is James who settles the dispute (Ac 15:1-20). In Acts 21:18 Paul and others reported to James and the elders. James is listed before the elders (Ἰάκωβον, πάντες τε παρεγένοντο οἱ πρεσβύτεροι.) this is likely due to emphasize his prominence among the elders, thus making James the presiding elder.[12] Independent of Luke, Paul mentions James as an Apostle in Jerusalem (Gal 1:19; 2:9). In addition to James, Jesus’ brothers are also mentioned by Paul as being believers (1 Cor 9:5). It is reported by Josephus and others that James, the brother of Jesus was martyred for his faith in Christ—his brother.

Thus, the NT gives plenty of evidence and independent attestation to the fact that Jesus brothers were skeptical of his ministry; taunted him because of it; were not present during his crucifixion, and at some later point converted. One brother (James) even becomes a prominent leader of the Jerusalem Church. Outside of the NT there are accounts demonstrating the resolve of James; he was faithful to the point of death.

Josephus mentions:

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned;[13]

A fragment of Clement of Alexandria is preserved in Eusebius:

But there were two Jameses: one called the Just, who was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and was beaten to death with a club by a fuller,12 and another who was beheaded.” Paul also makes mention of the same James the Just, where he writes, “Other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.”14]

Eusebius also preserved Hegesippus:

The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and said: ‘Thou just one, in whom we ought all to have: confidence, forasmuch as the people are led, astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.’ And he answered with a loud voice, ‘Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.’ And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another, ‘We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.’ And they cried out, saying, ‘Oh! oh! the just man is also in error.’ And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah, ‘Let us take away8 the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.’ So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, ‘Let us stone James the Just.’ And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, ‘I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’10 And while they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of the Rechabites, who are mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet,12 cried out, saying, ‘Cease, what do ye? The just one prayeth for you.’ And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom.[15]

Thus, there is independent attestation to the fact that James, brother of Jesus and former skeptic suffered martyrdom for his faith in Christ, who happened to be his own brother. Though these accounts differ in the detail, they do indicate that James died for his faith in Christ and from a historical perspective, this is very difficult to deny. Clearly James believed his brother was the Messiah, why else would he be willing to die, he certainly would not die for something he knew was a lie.

[1] It is possible that Mk 3:21 is a reference to the twelve disciples, but it must be said that most commentators believe this was Jesus’ close relatives, most likely his brothers. It must be said that the brothers of Jesus are not mentioned until v. 31 and thus the first time reader of the Gospel would only come to the conclusion that Jesus’ brothers were the ones “seizing” him in retrospect of the later passage.

[2] R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002), 166.

[3] Matt 12:23; Mk 2:12; 3:21; 5:42; 6:51; Lk 2:47; 8:56; 24:22; Ac 2:7, 12; 8:9, 11, 13; 9:21; 10:45; 12:16; 2 Cor 5:13

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mk 6:3.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mk 6:4.

[6] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 112; James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[7] Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek (Logos Bible Software, 2009), Jn 7:1–5.

[8] John uses τὰ ἔργα your works negatively in Jn 3:19, 20; 7:7; 1 Jn 3:12; 3 Jn 10; Rev 3:1, 2, 15; 18:6.

[9] Jn 19:26-27.

[10] Mk 3:31-35; cf. Matt 12:49

[11] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ac 1:14.

[12] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 446.

[13] Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987).

[14] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 104.

[15] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 126–127.

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4 thoughts on “A Historical Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: Part 4

  1. You did a good job establishing the fact that James was a skeptic. Some people can’t get past their false belief that Jesus never had any siblings, because they incorrectly believe Mary remained a virgin.

    I have one question. Are you sure the account of James’s death as reported by Clement is of James, the brother of Jesus? According to Acts 12:2, James the brother of John was likely beheaded, not James the brother of Jesus.

    Chris

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    • Good Catch! The mistake stemmed from a misplaced footnote made during research. I corrected the post with the proper citation which is as follows:
      But there were two Jameses: one called the Just, who was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and was beaten to death with a club by a fuller,12 and another who was beheaded.” Paul also makes mention of the same James the Just, where he writes, “Other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.

      Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 104.

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