Page images
PDF
EPUB

:

No. X. An exact conformity appears in the manner in which a certain apostle or eminent Christian, whose name was James, is spoken of in the epistle and in the history. Both writings refer to a situation of his at Jerusalem, somewhat different from that of the other apostles ; a kind of eminence or presidency in the church there, or at least a more fixed and stationary residence. Chap. ii. 12:“When Peter was at Antioch, before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles.” This text plainly attributes a kind of pre-eminence to James; and, as we hear of him twice in the same epistle dwelling at Jerusalem (i. 19, and ii. 9), we must apply it to the situation which he held in that church. In the Acts of the Apostles divers intimations occur, conveying the same idea of James's situation. When Peter was miraculously delivered from prison, and had surprised his friends by his appearance among them, after declaring unto them how the Lord had brought him out of prison, “Go show,” says he, “these things unto James, and to the brethren,” Acts xii. 17. Here James is manifestly spoken of in terms of distinction. He appears again with like distinction in the twenty-first chapter and the seventeenth and eighteenth verses : “And when we” (Paul and his company) “were come to Jerusalem ; the day following, Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present." In the debate which took place upon the business of

the words, whatever they signify, belong to the whole of the epistle ; and not, as Grotius, after St. Jerome, interprets it, to the few verses which follow.

a

the Gentile converts, in the council at Jerusalem, this same person seems to have taken the lead. It was he who closed the debate, and proposed the resolution in which the council ultimately concurred: “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them which from among the Gentiles are turned to God.”

Upon the whole, that there exists a conformity in the expressions used concerning James, throughout the history, and in the epistle, is unquestionable. But admitting this conformity, and admitting also the undesignedness of it, what does it prove? It proves that the circumstance itself is founded in truth; that

1 is, that James was a real person, who held a situation of eminence in a real society of Christians at Jerusalem. It confirms also those parts of the narrative which are connected with this circumstance. Suppose, for instance, the truth of the account of Peter's escape from prison was to be tried upon the testimony of a witness, who, amongst other things, made Peter, after his deliverance, say, “Go show these things to James and to the brethren;" would it not be material, in such a trial, to make out by other independent proofs, or by a comparison of proofs drawn from independent sources, that there was actually at that time, living at Jerusalem, such a person as James ; that this person held such a situation in the society amongst whom these things were transacted, as to render the words which Peter is said to have used concerning him, proper and natural for him to have used ? If this would be pertinent in the discussion of oral testimony, it is still more so in appreciating the credit of remote history.

It must not be dissembled that the comparison of our epistle with the history presents some difficulties,

[ocr errors]

G

or, to say the least, some questions, of considerable magnitude. It may be doubted, in the first place, to what journey the words which open the second chapter of the epistle, “then, fourteen years afterwards, I went unto Jerusalem," relate. That which best corresponds with the date, and that to which most interpreters apply the passage, is the journey of Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, when they went thither from Antioch, upon the business of the Gentile converts; and which journey produced the famous council and decree recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Acts. To me this opinion appears to be encumbered with strong objections. In the epistle Paul tells us that "he went up by revelation ” (ii. 2). In the Acts, we read that he was sent by the church of Antioch: “After no small dissension and disputation, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts xv. 2.) This is not very reconcileable. In the epistle St. Paul writes that, when he came to Jerusalem, "he communicated that Gospel which he preached among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation” (ü. 2). If by “that Gospel” be meant the immunity of the Gentile Christians from the Jewish law (and I know not what else it can mean), it is not easy to conceive how he should communicate that privately, which was the subject of his public message. But a yet greater difficulty remains, viz. that in the account which the epistle gives of what passed upon this visit at Jerusalem, no notice is taken of the deliberation and decree which are recorded in the Acts, and which, according to that history, formed the business for the sake of which the journey was undertaken. The mention of the council and of its determination, whilst the apostle was relating his proceedings at Jerusalem, could hardly have been avoided, if in truth the narrative belong to the same journey. To me it appears more probable that Paul and Barnabas had taken some journey to Jerusalem, the mention of which is omitted in the Acts. Prior to the apostolic decree, we read that “ Paul and Barnabas abode at Antioch a long time with the disciples." (Acts xiv. 28.) Is it unlikely that, during this long abode they might go up to Jerusalem and return to Antioch? Or would the omission of such a journey be unsuitable to the general brevity with which these memoirs are written, especially of those parts of St. Paul's history which took place before the historian joined his society ?

But, again, the first account we find in the Acts of the Apostles of St. Paul's visiting Galatia, is in the sixteenth chapter and the sixth verse: “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they assayed to go into Bithynia.” The progress here recorded was subsequent to the apostolic decree; therefore that decree must have been extant when our epistle was written. Now, as the professed design of the epistle was to establish the exemption of the Gentile converts from the law of Moses, and as the decree pronounced and confirmed that exemption, it may seem extraordinary that no notice whatever is taken of that determination, nor any appeal made to its authority. Much however of the weight of this objection, which applies also to some other of St. Paul's epistles, is removed by the following reflections.

1. It was not St. Paul's manner, nor agreeable to it, to resort or defer much to the authority of the other apostles, especially whilst he was insisting, as he does strenuously throughout this epistle insist, upon his own original inspiration. He who could speak of the very chiefest of the apostles in such terms as the following—" of those who seemed to be somewhat (whatsoever they were it maketh no matter to me, God accepteth no man's person) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me" -he, I say, was not likely to support himself by their decision.

2. The epistle argues the point upon principle; and it is not perhaps more to be wondered at, that in such an argument St. Paul should not cite the apostolic decree, than it would be that, in a discourse designed to prove the moral and religious duty of observing the sabbath, the writer should not quote the thirteenth canon.

3. The decree did not go the length of the position maintained in the epistle; the decree only declares that the apostles and elders at Jerusalem did not impose the observance of the Mosaic law upon the Gentile converts, as a condition of their being admitted into the Christian church. Our epistle argues that the Mosaic institution itself was at an end, as to all effects upon a future state, even with respect to the Jews themselves.

4. They whose error St. Paul combated, were not persons who submitted to the Jewish law, because it was imposed by the authority, or because it was made part of the law of the Christian church ; but they were persons who, having already become Christians, afterwards voluntarily took upon themselves the observance of the Mosaic code, under a notion of attaining thereby to a greater perfection. This, I think, is

« PreviousContinue »