I have been reading introductions to various books of the Bible, the most recent one being James. While James is not the only book to have doubts or suspicions toward it, James also had a long hard journey to make before its inclusion into the New Testament. Though it would eventually be considered to be scripture there was still a fair amount of reserve and suspicion about it. Martin Luther would have been happy to see it banished from the New Testament. This view was also shared by the early Christian fathers but in fairness to James not so much to banning it as to the fact there was strong doubt still among them as to content. At this point the journey is just beginning. It was into the fourth century that the Latin speaking church saw the emergence of James in the writings of the fathers. The scholar Jerome included James in his Latin version of the New Testament, The Vulgate which was completed early in the fifth century. However the doubt was still present to some degree. James, who is referred to as the brother of the Lord wrote only this epistle, it was one of the seven catholic Epistles and some said it was issued by someone else in James’ name. Although Jerome had some doubt as to who the writer was he did accept it as scripture. We can add to that Augustine, who fully accepted James and had no doubt that James was the brother of our Lord. There are other points and facts that make this journey so long and arduous. If the book was really written in Palestine and James was really the brother of our Lord, was the hesitation of the Syrian Church fostered by the wavering and swings of opinion that continued to present itself?
We add this note here…
Peshitta, (Syriac: “simple” or “common”) Syriac version of the Bible, the accepted Bible of Syrian Christian churches from the end of the 3rd century ce.
The name “Peshitta” was first employed by Moses bar Kepha in the 9th century to suggest (as does the name of the Latin Vulgate) that the text was in common use. (Wikipedia)
Now we could engulf ourselves in dates and times but it is much simpler to just add a few comments here.
-The Peshitta was to the Syrian Church what the Vulgate was to the Latin Church.
-The first time it was translated into Syrian was about AD 412 by the Bishop of Edessa.
-It was not, in fact, until mid-way through the eighth century that the great authority of the Greek theologian John of Damascus did for James in the Syrian church what Augustine had done for it in the Latin church. (W Barclay)
James emerged sooner in the Greek speaking churches compared to the Latin and Syrian but still that doubt was there for some. As strange as it seems no one really questioned the value of James but in all the letter was emerging and went through a period of debate while its right to be considered a new testament book was in dispute. In our day we seldom hear James mentioned in conversation as often as John, Romans, Luke or even Galatians. There were those books that were accepted without question from the very start and then there were those that had to gradually win there way in. James found itself in that second tier that only time would heal the doubts and suspicions attached to the book. The Roman Catholic Church settled its issues with the book of James with the Edict of the Council of Trent. Things didn’t work out as well in the Protestant Church because of the attacks against it from Luther. We will take a little space and a few more words to note this interesting fact. During the printing of the German New Testament Luther kept a contents page. There was a separate small group that he considered to be secondary. That group consisted of James, Jude, Hebrews and Revelation. These were books which Luther held to be secondary. I think to sum all this up we can best simply use Luther’s famous verdict on James. It is in the concluding paragraph of his Preface to the New Testament…
‘In sum: the gospel and the first epistle of St John, St Paul’s epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians and Ephesians; and St Peter’s first epistle, are the books which show Christ to you. They teach everything you need to know for your salvation, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or hear any other teaching. In comparison with these, the epistle of James is an epistle full of straw, because it contains nothing evangelical. But more about this in other prefaces.’
I will close with this thought. James had a long and perilous journey but one bright spot was that the Roman Catholic Church agreed in 1546, Council of Trent, that James is canonical and is written by an apostle. So why this blog? For me it brings into focus how important scripture is. Those who wrote the words as they lived the ordeal of teaching and preaching the Gospel, the agony of Christ as he went to the cross and the faith of the believers as they took the reality of eternal life through the resurrection of Christ to the people.
James stood the test of time because the believer’s faith stood firm…It did not waver, it did not give into doubt. How do you stand today? Do you waver and allow doubt to marginalize God’s word?
Life is Good