I'm returning now to my review of Habermas and Licona's book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. My previous comments on the book are located here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here,and here.
In this post I want to discuss the 4th alleged fact accepted by the majority of NT scholars. This is the claim that James the brother of Jesus had been a skeptic of Jesus' claims, but converted to Christianity subsequent to the resurrection.
Presumably this fact would be difficult to explain without at least concluding that James genuinely believed that Jesus was raised. After all, what would it take for you to become convinced your brother was the Messiah? What changed for James that lead him to become a follower of Christ when he had previously been a skeptic? An actual resurrection would of course fully explain these events.
But once again, do we really know these things as fact? Do any of our texts actually say that this is what happened with James? In fact they do not. This is an inference drawn from the fact that some texts portray James as an important Christian leader and others portray Jesus' family as skeptical of his claims. Is this inference justified? The texts discussed below (and cited in my most recent post) can help us decide.
The earliest Christian documents are the Pauline texts, and in them we are informed that James is a very important leader in the church and "brother of the Lord." In Gal 1:19 James is the lone apostle that Paul met with in Jerusalem. In Gal 2:9 James is portrayed as one of the three pillars along with Peter and John. In Gal 2:12 we find that James is the leader of a faction with members that appear to have caused Peter some embarrassment to the point that he withdrew from the Gentiles. Nothing written from Paul would suggest that James had been a skeptic that converted upon a post resurrection visit from Christ.
The earliest gospel is Mark. Mark tells us that Jesus had a brother named James (6:3), and that at one point Jesus' family members thought he might be crazy (3:21). Like Paul, Mark says that there is a person named James that is part of the inner circle of three along with Peter and John (5:37, 9:2, 14:33). But for Mark this James is not the brother of Jesus. He's the brother of John and son of Zebedee. This James is listed as one of the twelve disciples according to Mark, along with another James, James the son of Alphaeus (3:17-18). Mark never informs us that Jesus' brother became a Christian.
The information that Matthew offers is similar to that of Mark. Jesus has a brother named James (13:55). But James the son of Zebedee (one of the 12 disciples along with James son of Alphaes, see 10:2-3) is part of the inner circle of three (17:1). Matthew doesn't suggest that Jesus' brother James became a Christian.
The author of Luke/Acts has a slightly different picture. Again, like Paul, Mark, and Matthew, James the son of Zebedee is part of the inner circle of three along with Peter and John (8:51, 9:28). Two men with the name James are again listed as being among the 12 disciples (6:13-16). We are not told that Jesus has a brother named James. In fact, where Mark and Matthew tell us that James is Jesus brother, Luke appears to be using the same source, but he actually omits the reference to James, almost as if he doesn't want us to think that James is Jesus' brother (4:22). Turning to the book of Acts, Herod has James the son of Zebedee put to death by the sword (12:2). Then, without any fanfare or introduction, another James enters the picture, and this James is similar to the James we're familiar with from Paul. He seems to be a very important church leader. Peter tells others to inform James regarding his escape from prison (12:17). Then James (presumably the same one) is shown as if he's the leader of the Jerusalem Council, pronouncing his final judgment and orders (chapter 15). Who is this James? As far as Luke is concerned we have no reason to think he's the brother of Jesus.
How would an inerrantist make sense of all of this information. Obviously all of this information must fit together within a coherent historical framework. It must be purely a coincidence that the James that was part of the inner circle of three was replaced with another James, this time the brother of Jesus, now a member of the three reputed "pillars." The leader of the Jerusalem church of Acts 15 must be none other than the same skeptical James that thought Jesus was crazy at Mk 3:21. He was so persuaded by the appearance described in I Cor 15 that he was obliged to change his thinking.
And here we arrive at Habermas and Licona's supposed fact. But Habermas and Licona are presenting themselves as offering only those facts accepted by the scholarly consensus. Whether or not the scholarly consensus does agree that this is a fact, I would say that anybody that wants to call themselves a scholar simply cannot just take the inerrantist approach and assume that all of these pieces simply must fit together within a historical framework by hook or by crook.
The scholar needs to recognize that different authors may have different agendas. None of the biblical authors say that James the brother of Jesus had been a skeptic and subsequently became a follower. Maybe none of the biblical authors saw it this way. Is it possible that Paul and James represent rival factions, and while James is admitted to be relevant in the early going he is subsequently downplayed and perhaps his role is minimized? Anybody that knows anything about Catholic vs Protestant apologetics knows that the Roman Catholics take a more Jamesian approach to the gospel whereas Protestants emphasize Paul. Are the canonical scriptures reflecting that rivalry by sort of writing James out, spinning off different characters called James to obfuscate his real historical role, having the non-brother James stand in the place of the brother James as within the inner circle of three?
Habermas and Licona need to show why we shouldn't consider these alternative theories, rather than simply assuming that we must adopt a position that is really an amalgamation of all of the data. This position is really based on a demand for inerrancy, which the skeptic of course does not share and cannot assume.