pagels on the tension between paul and james

Noted scholar Elaine Pagels points out the tension between the teachings of Paul and the teachings of James and the Twelve:

Paul’s impassioned preaching soon attracted a considerable following of Gentiles in the Syrian city of Antioch, but it also embroiled him in bitter disputes with other followers of Jesus. People who belonged to the Jerusalem group led by Jesus’ brother James apparently charged that Paul’s “gospel” was so radical that it contradicted what they had heard from the most respected leaders, including James himself and the disciples Peter and John. Although what Luke later wrote in the Book of Acts glossed over these disputes, Paul’s own words suggest that initially he was concerned that Peter and James—or, at any rate, their followers—might oppose him for preaching to Gentiles a “gospel” that had dropped all Torah requirements, although he says that finally they agreed to let him teach it.

So when other leaders in the movement accused Paul of having no credentials to speak for Jesus, whom he had never met, Paul burst out in anger. He sarcastically called his accusers “super apostles” who were forcing him to talk about matters that made him feel foolish and uncomfortable, since what he had to say would sound like boasting. Paul insisted that he taught only what came to him directly “through revelation”—not from Peter, James, or anyone else on earth. Paul insisted that his authority came straight from God—from “visions and revelations of the Lord.”

Pagels, Elaine. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (p. 44). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


When John accuses “evildoers” of leading gullible people into sin, what troubles him is what troubled the Essenes: whether—or how much—to accommodate pagan culture. And when we see Jesus’ earliest followers, including Peter, James, and Paul, not as we usually see them, as early Christians, but as they saw themselves—as Jews who had found God’s messiah—we can see that they struggled with the same question. For when John charges that certain prophets and teachers are encouraging God’s people to eat “unclean” food and engage in “unclean” sex, he is taking up arguments that had broken out between Paul and followers of James and Peter about forty years earlier—an argument that John of Patmos continues with a second generation of Paul’s followers.57 For when we ask, who are the “evildoers” against whom John warns? we may be surprised at the answer. Those whom John says Jesus “hates” look very much like Gentile followers of Jesus converted through Paul’s teaching. Many commentators have pointed out that when we step back from John’s angry rhetoric, we can see that the very practices John denounces are those that Paul had recommended.

Pagels, Elaine. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (pp. 53-54). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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2 Responses to pagels on the tension between paul and james

  1. truescience7 says:

    It seems pretty pathetic that all of the 12 and the 70 which had much more man-power and knew Messiah in the flesh and founded many congregations would have had their teachings and preaching thwarted by one man, Paul. It also seems quite pathetic that the great Apostles could have given us such vague and obscure warnings of Paul when in other places, like in John, they name the heretics outright. It is absurd and irresponsible that these bold and brave men would not have outright condemned and warned about such an evil and dangerous threat as Paul.

    One must then believe the Asian assemblies would have not been followers of Paul. On the contrary, Polycarp along with the other Torah-observant brethren of Asia endorses Paul.

    The Nazarenes even by Jerome’s time endorsed Paul:

    “The Nazarenes, whose opinion I have set forth above, try to explain this passage in the following way: When Messiah came and his preaching shone out, the land of Zebulon and Naphtali first of all were freed from the errors of the Scribes and Pharisees and he shook off their shoulders the very heavy yoke of the Jewish traditions. Later, however the preaching became more dominant, that means the preaching was multiplied, through the Gospel of the apostle Paul who was the last of all the apostles. And the Gospel of Messiah shone to the most distant tribes and the way of the whole sea. Finally the whole world, which earlier walked or sat in darkness and was imprisoned in the bonds of idolatry and death, has seen the clear light of the Gospel.”

    – Jerome on the Nazarene’s Commentary on Isaiah 9:1-4

    I was only the heretical Ebionites which rejected Paul.

    The Jewish Messianic Hegesippus clearly writes that the Apostolic congregations enmasse only descended into lawless teachings after the Apostles and their successors had died and that those responsible for this were the Gnostics:

    “…Up to that period the Church had remained like a virgin pure and uncorrupted: for, if there were any persons who were disposed to tamper with the wholesome rule of the preaching of salvation,13 they still lurked in some dark place of concealment or other. But, when the sacred band of apostles had in various ways closed their lives, and that generation of men to whom it had been vouchsafed to listen to the Godlike Wisdom with their own ears had passed away, then did the confederacy of godless error take its rise through the treachery of false teachers, who, seeing that none of the apostles any longer survived, at length attempted with bare and uplifted head to oppose the preaching of the truth by preaching “knowledge falsely so called.”

    – Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson, LL.D—Remains of the Second and Third Centuries—Hegesippus.

    And the Essenes were determinists who clearly were dabbling in Gentile philosophies of men that are against Scripture because we have things like Astrology in their writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    There is no corroborating evidence in early Congregation history that Paul was a false teacher going against the Apostles but it clearly points in the opposite direction. The Conspiracy is that the Church fell away from the Law by embracing paganism, platonism, and gnosticism, and syncronizing it into the Trust.

    We see the Essenes and Ebionites already did this before the Gentiles Christian churches with the Ebionite veganism and the Essenes dabbling in the occult and embracing Buddhist communism.

  2. But we know that after His first vison Paul talked with the disciples and after that He was sent as a missionary. See the Book of Acts.

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