Friday, July 11, 2008

Fact #4-The Conversion of the Skeptic James

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.


Anonymous said...

Once again, you seek to discount a fact that "all scholars agree upon". This immediately calls you into question. Show us your credentials, Jon. PhD? Masters? No? Oh, skeptic blogger. Ok. I can see where you're coming from now. And that really helps me trust your unbiased judgment when you critique universal scholarly consensus.

Is it not the very reason that Habermas and Licona build their argument this way - looking for facts that ALL scholars are unanimous on? To try to help the skeptic find some common agreement? But no, you want to go against what even secular, non-Christians agree upon. You seem to think that if a question can be raised, then we can have serious reason to doubt the conclusion.

There a 4 James's listed in the New Testament. Yet you blur them together and act as if no one can tell the difference between them. That is false. In addition, none of this hinges on inerrancy. That is a pathetic card to play. Habermas and Licona specifically DO NOT hang any of their arguments on inerrancy. That is a red herring and means nothing here.

And finally, you leave out the fact of evidence outside the NT (Josephus, Hegesippus and Clement) of the martyrdom of James.

Your whole argument hangs on this:
- you can't tell the difference between the James's.

Here's a link that will help you get your James's sorted out.

Steven Carr said...

'After all, what would it take for you to become convinced your brother was the Messiah?'

Perhaps spending 30 years observing his literally Christ-like behaviour.

Perhaps seeing that your brother never sinned.

Perhaps being told stories of his birth and knowing that he was born of a virgin.

It appears Habermas thinks there is overwhelming evidence that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that all scholars are unanimous that the very brothers of Jesus would have scoffed at this overwhelming evidence about the person they lived with for decades.


This is like Muslims claiming there is overwhelmimg evidence that Muhammad revealed the Koran, and that everybody agrees that nobody at that time would have believed Muhammad's story, despite this overwhelming evidence.

Can Habermas actually produce one shred of evidence that James was a sceptic about his virgin-born brother?

Or that James ever preached that the corpse of Jesus left the grave?

And what would Habermas achieve by having a brother proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected, but you can't see him, because the body has gone to Heaven?

Habermas would acheive no more than proving that there really was a Joseph Smith who proclaimed that he had been given some Golden Plates, but you can't see them beause they have gone to Heaven.

All scholars agree Joseph Smith was a sceptic of the idea that the King James Bible was not God's final word.

All scholars agree that Joseph Smith then started to preach that there were new scriptures.

I can see Habermas rushing off to become a Mormon....

Mind you, it is amazingly convincing that James was a sceptic who converted.

I saw a find-the-lady game in the street the other day.

I was always convinced these things were frauds

But the dealer's brother said that initially he too had been sceptical of the honesty of his brother.

But the dealer's brother had watched a few games and was now convinced that the game was on the level.

Later I found that the dealer's brother had been arrested and jailed for fraud.

That proves that there was no fraud, because why would somebody go to jail for a lie?

All he had to do was tell people it was a fraud, and he would have walked free!

Really! Claims that the brother of someone was sceptical and was later convinced is the oldest trick in the book!

Habermas would laugh himself silly at claims that Mormonism must be true, if Mormons said that Joseph Smith had got his brother to be leader of the Mormon church.

You can imagine just how hard Christian apologists would scorn the idea that if Joseph Smith's brother had initially not been in on the scam, and had then 'converted' and become the person who made all the rules for Mormons, then Mormonism must be true.

You would not be able to describe just how much Christians would mock Mormons if they said that.

Yet Habermas is amazed that people do not convert when he tells them that the brother of Jesus was a 'sceptic' and then was leader of the church.


Jon said...

I read your link, anon, and it appears to be more of the inerrantist mindset. Look at the section "Probation and Ordination." Kerr says that since John doesn't mention James in the initial calling, (nor does he ever indicate that he is a disciple for that matter) but the synoptics do, then this would suggest that James was probably back in Galilee during the initial calling.

This is nothing but classic midrash. It's an embellishment of the text read in which is not really there. In the same way the synoptics portray Mary Magdalene and another Mary going to the tomb on Easter morning and they find it empty. They return to tell the disciples and (as per Matthew) on the way to tell them they meet Jesus, clasp his feet and worship him. But when they finally arrive to tell the disciples Mary says to them (according to the Gospel of John) "They've taken my Lord and I don't know where they've laid him. They've stolen the body."

What Christians do is they say that Mary arrived at the tomb as per Matthew, ran away immediately to tell the disciples before speaking with the angels present, told them the body had been stolen, and wasn't with the women (in Matthew) when they saw Jesus on the return trip to the disciples. She then returned with Peter and John as per the Gospel of John and met Jesus, who she had mistaken for the gardener.

The text doesn't say anything like that. But this is how an inerrantist approaches it. It doesn't matter if none of the sources actually relate the story as the inerrantist wants to tell it. If they think it is possible (and I don't think it is based upon the way the pronouns are used in Matthew), they go with it.

This is exactly what Kerr is doing. This is what Hambermas and Licona are doing. But they cannot assume this type of exegetical methodology with a skeptic (and these arguments are intended to persuade a skeptic after all). A skeptic would sooner conclude that just because one gospel author says one thing, this doesn't mean that the other would agree.

So why not line the sources up chronologically and see if the information provided from the one to the next betrays some other underlying purpose. This is how I approach the text. Why is the "reputed" pillar James in Galatians replaced with another James in the inner circle of three in the later texts? Isn't it odd that the same person Paul at least appears to have a problem also seems to be cloned and downplayed in later texts. That's a fair approach to the text. This is why I say that Habermas and Licona want to pretend that only the inerrantist amalgam understanding is the only option on the table.

Steven Carr said...

If Habermas came across 2 Muslim texts, one describing a relative of Muhammad as a sceptic, and never mentioning a conversion, and another claiming the same relative was a Muslim, and never mentioned any scepticism, would Habermas claim the relative must have been a sceptic who converted?

Jon said...

That's a good point. In fact the gospels show Peter to have been a believer in physical resurrection, yet later Gnostic texts (granting evangelical assumptions about dating) portray him as holding to a spiritual resurrection. I guess this means he had an epiphany and we should certainly hold to a gnostic understanding of things.

Vinny said...

Mark 3 tells us that Jesus' mother was with his brothers trying to reel him in. I guess that makes Mary a skeptic too. The virgin birth apparently was not sufficient to convince her.