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THE EXERCISE OF AUTHORITY.
St James and his position.
WE have already spent much time on the Jerusalem conference and letter, and its sequel. But there remain some points which concern our subject too closely to be passed over. First, about St James. This is the second of the three occasions on which his name appears in the Acts. When St Peter was released by the angel from prison, after the martyrdom of the Apostle James the brother of John, he said to the disciples assembled in the house of John Mark “Tell these things to James and to the brethren” (xii. 17). He must then have already been in some manner prominent among the disciples. As the chief among the Lord’s own brethren, and one to whom the Lord vouchsafed a separate appearance after the Resurrection 1 Cor. xv. 7), doubtless the appearance to which the well-known story in the Gospel according to the Hebrews refers (Lightfoot, Gal. 265), and, if so, at 77which his unbelief probably carne to an end, he would evidently be held in a peculiar kind of respect in the infant Ecclesia. St Paul alone speaks of him as an Apostle (Gal. i. 19: and probably by implication 1 Cor. xv. 7), and the contexts seem to me distinctly to exclude that looser sense of the term referred to before by which mere ‘Apostles of Ecclesiae’ were meant, while it is hardly less clear that he did not anticipate the later theory which made him to have been from the first one of the Twelve. It would seem then that, possessing as he did in an eminent degree the primary apostolic qualification of being a witness of the Lord’s life, death and resurrection, he was at some early time after the persecution by Herod taken up into the place among the Twelve vacated by his namesake. The silence of St Luke, as compared with his explicitness about Matthias, may be due to the fact that in this instance it was no matter of choice, calling for all the process described in Acts i., but a natural result of the combination of circumstances, such as might itself well be treated as a sufficient intimation of the Divine will. On the other hand no Apostleship of St James is recorded or implied by St Luke, though he three times mentions him in a way which marks him out as, to say the least, a leading and prominent person. But this is less surprising than it might otherwise be, if the prominence was due to personal circumstances, which continued to operate after his admission to the Apostolate, 78just as antecedently they had procured his admission to it. In other words, the prominence which he has in the Acts would not be due to his having become an Apostle: nay, his admission to that joint responsibility might rather tend to diminish any exclusiveness of prestige which he may have acquired outside the Apostolate, and so independently of it.
Was then the prominence of St James due solely to personal qualifications and history, not to any recognised function? That would be too much to say. That at the time of his death he was practically the ruler of the Ecclesia of Jerusalem is the least open to doubt among the particulars of the traditions current in the Second Century about him, by whatever name we choose to call his government; and at least the origin of such a position is likely to have some connexion with the facts mentioned or implied by St Luke. The clearest fact about him attested by the New Testament, Acts and St Paul alike, but enormously exaggerated at a later time, is that he was at least more closely connected in sentiment with the more Jewish part of the Ecclesia of Jerusalem than were the rest of the Apostles; and it may well be that the veneration in which he is said to have been held at the time of his death even by unbelieving Jews, had its roots in an early popularity which would make him a valuable mediator between the stiffer sort of Hebrew Christians and the other Apostles. Such a passage as that just cited from St Peter’s words after 79his release might, taken alone, be quite sufficiently explained by purely personal prominence. So also the fact that in Gal. ii. 9 the order is “James and Cephas and John” might well be due to the fact that the adherence of James on the occasion referred to was even more significant than that of the other two, on account of his closer relations with the Jewish party. But the two other passages of the Acts are best understood as implying that he held some recognised office or function in connexion with the Ecclesia of Jerusalem: and it does not seem unlikely that on his admission to the Apostolate it was arranged that, unlike the rest, he should exercise a definite local charge. Such a charge would of necessity become more distinct and, so to speak, monarchical when the other Apostles were absent from Jerusalem. His own circumstances were unique, and the circumstances of the Ecclesia of Jerusalem were no less unique. A peculiar function founded on peculiar qualifications is what the narrative suggests.
There is nothing in St Luke’s words which bears out what is often said, that St James presided over the conference at Jerusalem. If he had, it would be strange that his name should not be mentioned separately at the beginning, where we read only that “the Apostles and the Elders” were gathered together. In the decisive speeches at the end the lead is taken by St Peter, the foremost of the Twelve. After Barnabas and Paul have ended their narrative, James 80takes up the word. What he says is called an answer (ἀπεκρίθη Ἰάκωβος λέγων xv. 13), probably as replying to words uttered earlier by the more Jewish section of the assembly during the dispute mentioned in v. 7. His opening words suggest that his first appeal is to them, and that he makes it as one to whom they might be more willing to listen than to St Paul, “Brethren (ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί), listen to me”; he then refers to Peter’s exposition, calling him not only by his original name, but by the strictly Hebrew form of it, Symeon, as though to bespeak their goodwill for what Peter had said. Then again the words which begin his conclusion, “Wherefore my judgement is,” cannot reasonably be understood as an authoritative judgment pronounced by himself independently: the whole context and what is said in v. 22 about the actual decision makes that interpretation morally impossible. The sense is doubtless “I for my part2020Wetstein in loc. quotes Thuc. iv. 16 for a still weaker ὡς ἐγὼ κρίνω, explained by the scholiast as ὡς ἐγὼ νομίζω, and the same use of κρίνω, occurs elsewhere in the Acts (xiii. 46; xvi. 15; xxvi. 8): here the sense seems to he intermediate. Cf. the old latin version of Irenæus cont. Haer. III. xii. 14 ‘Ego secundum me iudico.’ judge,” “this is my vote” as we should say. The point then is that, guardian though he was of the honour of Israel in the Ecclesia, he here throws his voice on the side of liberty. It is no objection to this view that he says simply ἐγώ not κἀγώ: owing to his mention of the four abstinences his proposal could not be simply identical with that of St Peter. 81We saw just now that he is not named at the gathering of the assembly. It is just the same afterwards: the decision is said to be made by the Apostles and the Elders with the whole Ecclesia; the letter proceeds from the Apostles and the elder brethren: apart then from these two classes he can hardly have exercised authority in this matter.
The Authority of the Jerusalem Elders and of the Twelve.
When we pass from St James to the Apostles and Elders, the question arises, “What kind of authority they here put forth over the brethren in Antioch and the surrounding region?” The answer cannot be a simple one. The letter itself at once implies an authority, and betrays an unwillingness to make a display of it. In the forefront are set anxious friendliness, courteous approval. Whatever is in any sense imperative comes after this and subsidiary to it, and is set forth as what had seemed good “to the Holy Spirit and to us”, the human authority, whatever it be, being as it were appended to that which is presumed to be Divine. Further, the semblance of a command is softened off at the end into a counsel; “from which if ye keep yourselves it shall be well with you.”
So again in the next chapter (xvi. 4) the phrase used, “the decrees which had been ordained of the Apostles and Elders”, seems to refer back, ‘the 82decrees’ (δόγματα) to the twice repeated ἔδοξεν of xv. 22, 25, ‘ordained’ (κεκριμένα) to St James’s κρίνω in xv. 192121In the later reference (xxi. 25) we have no stronger term than ἀπεστείλαμεν (or ἐπεστείλαμεν) κρίναντες: cf. St James’s κρίνω . . . ἐπιστείλαι (xv. 19 f.).. Δόγμα in Greek (properly only what seems, or seems good) is one of those curiously elastic words which vary in sharpness of meaning according to the persons to whom a thing is said to seem good, and to the other circumstances of the case. The dogma of an emperor or a legislative assembly or the Amphictyonic council is a decree, the dogma of a philosopher is what seems to him to be true; and between these extremes are various shades of meaning. Here the probable sense is nearly what we should call a ‘resolution’, as passed by any deliberative body, not in form imperative but intended to have a binding force. The New Testament is not poor of words expressive of command, ἐντέλλομαι, ἐπιτάσσω, προστάσσω, διατάσσω, διαστέλλομαι and their derivatives, to say nothing of κελεύω and παραγγέλλω: yet none of them is used. It was in truth a delicate and difficult position, even after the happy decision of the assembly. The independence of the Ecclesia of Antioch had to be respected, and yet not in such a way as to encourage disregard either of the great mother Ecclesia, or of the Lord’s own Apostles, or of the unity of the whole Christian body. Accordingly we do not find a word of a hint 83that the Antiochians would have done better to get sanction from Jerusalem before plunging into such grave responsibilities. But along with the cordial concurrence in the release of Gentile converts from legal requirements there goes a strong expression of opinion, more than advice and less than a command, respecting certain salutary restraints. A certain authority is thus implicitly claimed. There is no evidence that it was more than a moral authority; but that did not make it less real.
The bases of authority differ for the two bodies united in writing to Antioch, the Elders and the Apostles. The Elders are to all appearance the local elders of the Ecclesia of Jerusalem. It is impossible that, as such, they could claim any authority properly so called over the Ecclesia of Antioch. But they had a large voice, backed as they were by the great body of the Ecclesia of Jerusalem, in saying whether the Ecclesia of Jerusalem would accept the brethren at Antioch, and specially the Gentile converts among them, as true brethren of their own, and true disciples of Jesus Christ. There is no making of formal conditions of fellowship, but the Elders, as taking the lead in making so great a concession on the part of Jerusalem, might well feel that they had a right to expect that the four restraints which had been set forth would be accepted. Such a deference on the part of Antioch would be the more proper since Paul 84and Barnabas, the representatives of Antioch, had evidently accepted the resolution as a whole (see their conduct in xvi. 4).
The authority of the Apostles was of a different kind. There is indeed, as we have seen, no trace in Scripture of a formal commission of authority for government from Christ Himself. Their commission was to be witnesses of Himself, and to bear that witness by preaching and by healing. But it is inconceivable that the moral authority with which they were thus clothed, and the uniqueness of their position and personal qualifications, should not in all these years have been accumulating upon them by the spontaneous homage of the Christians of Judæa an ill-defined but lofty authority in matters of government and administration; of which indeed we have already had an instance in the laying of the price of the sold properties at their feet. What is not so easy to find out is the extent to which an apostolic authority of this kind is likely to have been felt and acknowledged beyond the limits of the Holy Land. On the one hand all Christian discipleship, wherever it sprang up, must have come directly or indirectly from the central community at Jerusalem, and it is difficult to see any form the Gospel could take in transmission in which the place of the still living Apostles would not be a primary one. On the other hand we cannot forget that it was of James and Peter and John that St Paul wrote those guarded but far-reaching words (Gal. ii. 6) 85“but from those who were reputed to be somewhat — (of whatsoever sort (ὁποῖοι) they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth not a man’s person) they, I say, who were of repute imparted nothing (or nothing farther) to me (ἐμοὶ οὐδὲν προσανέθεντο”: words which shew that with all his unfailing anxiety to have the concurrence of the Twelve, and not of them only but of the Ecclesia of Jerusalem at large, he was not prepared to obey if the Twelve had insisted on the requirement of circumcision and the Law. Hence in the letter sent to Antioch the authority even of the Apostles, notwithstanding the fact that unlike the Jerusalem elders they exercised a function towards all Christians, was moral rather than formal; a claim to deference rather than a right to be obeyed.
The Twelve and the Gentiles.
In this connexion there is special force in that familiar statement by St Paul in the context just referred to (Gal. ii. 7-12), “when they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with (a Gospel) of the circumcision (Πέτρος τῆς περιτομῆς, not τὸ τῆς), for He that wrought by Peter (that seems to be the sense of ὁ ἐνεργήσας Πέτρῳ, rather than either “in Peter” or “for Peter”) unto an Apostleship (no τήν) of the circumcision (τῆς περιτομῆς) wrought by me also unto (or for, εἰς) the Gentiles: — and when they perceived (γνόντες) the grace that was given unto me, James and Cephas and 86John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas right hands of fellowship (κοινωνίας), that we (should be, or should go; no verb) unto the Gentiles, and themselves unto the circumcision: only they would that we should remember the poor (i.e. poor Christians of Palestine); which I also for this very reason took pains to do.”
Our familiarity with the idea of St Paul as the Apostle of the Gentiles makes us in reading slide over this arrangement as though it were the obvious thing to be done. In one sense it was: but what is its relation to the universal mission of the Twelve? Was it indeed to the circumcision only that our Lord had appointed them to bear witness of Himself by word and act? It is difficult to think so when we read of words which He spoke between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Those other words about the twelve thrones, and about not having gone through the cities of Israel, doubtless remained, not abrogated. But in some sense or other the twelve Apostles were surely to be for the Gentiles as well as for the old Israel; not merely through the Ecclesia which was founded on them, but in themselves. They had a relation to the ideal twelve tribes of the new Israel as well as to those of the old, which long before the time of the Christian era had become hardly less ideal.
Here comes in the purely historical question. Had the Twelve or any of them preached beyond the limits of Palestine up to this time? High authorities give 87this extension to St Luke’s simple if vague words about St Peter after his deliverance from prison, how he “went out (i.e. out of John Mark’s house at Jerusalem) and went his way unto another place” (xii. 17). About twelve years are said to have then elapsed since the Ascension, and reference is made to one of the traditions current in the Second Century, to the effect that our Lord had bidden the Apostles go forth into the world after twelve years. There is, however, nothing connected with the tradition which gives it substantially more weight than the other fictions about the Apostles which soon flourished luxuriantly and in endless contradictions to each other. The omission of such a cardinal event from St Luke’s narrative is, I think, inconceivable; and his whole story of the doings of the Ecclesia of Antioch and St Paul’s first mission becomes unintelligible if similar missionary journeys of Apostles had preceded. We must, I think, conclude that up to the date of the great conference the Twelve had not believed themselves to have received any clear Divine intimation that the time was come for them to go forth in person among the nations.
But now, independently of any action on their own part, the whole horizon was changed by the action of the Ecclesia of Antioch and the labours of Paul and Barnabas. It was no merely human series of acts which came before them for recognition. They doubtless accepted the mission from Antioch 88as proceeding in the first instance from the Holy Spirit speaking by the mouth of prophets, and as subsequently sanctioned from heaven by the signs and wonders which Paul and Barnabas were enabled to work. Here then at last the Divine monition to themselves had come, though probably in an unexpected form. In the person of St Paul, long since welcomed by themselves as a fellow-worker, God had now raised up a mighty herald of the Gospel for the Gentiles. He was no delegate of theirs: his commission was direct: but by recognising him as specially called to do apostolic work among the Gentiles, they were enabled to feel that by agreement and fellowship with him they were in effect carrying out through him that extension of their sphere which it is incredible that they should ever have dismissed from their minds; and meanwhile they were themselves able without misgiving to continue their work in the narrower sphere in which they had already laboured so long. Whether this limitation was at the time contemplated as permanent or as temporary, we have of course no means of knowing: but indeed there was no need to decide; in the future, no less than in the present, the needful guidance was to be looked for from heaven. In any case this agreement with St Paul, made in private conference, must be kept in mind when we are reading the epistle to Antioch which was agreed to and written so shortly after. They remarkably supplement each other. On 89the one hand the Twelve could not have so written had they meant henceforth to hold themselves discharged from every kind of responsibility towards Gentile Christians generally: on the other the agreement with St Paul and St Barnabas excluded them for the present from working personally among the Gentiles.
It must be noticed that the limit drawn is religious, not geographical: it is between the circumcision and the Gentiles, not between the land of Israel and Gentile lands. Thus St James was still acting quite according to the agreement when, while remaining at the head of the Ecclesia of Jerusalem, he wrote an Epistle to Jewish Christians of the Dispersion. But we hear nothing of evangelistic journeys by the Twelve for preaching to the Jews of heathen cities; and it is most unlikely that any such were made. The distribution of fields of work involved in the agreement itself passed away in due time by the force of circumstances: we know of at least three of the Twelve who can be shown on trustworthy evidence to have laboured eventually in heathen lands. But that lies outside the Acts.
It is worthy of notice that we have now reached the last appearance of the Apostles collectively, or of any one of them except St James, in St Luke’s narrative. His remaining chapters are wholly silent about them. By this time the work which most characteristically belonged to them, their special contribution 90to the building up of the Ecclesia, though not yet ended, was not henceforth to present new features. What remained of their work in Palestine would be a continuation of such work as St Luke had already described. On them the Ecclesia of the mother city had been built.
The government of the Ecclesia of Antioch.
One other supplementary observation should be made before we leave this fifteenth chapter. In all that we read there and previously about the young Ecclesia of Antioch we learn absolutely nothing about its government or administration. The prophets and teachers have, as such, nothing to do with functions of this kind. Doubtless a man like Barnabas, coming as an envoy of the Ecclesia of Jerusalem (so, not simply of the Apostles, xi. 22) and shewing such sympathy with the local conditions of things, would acquire by the mere force of circumstances a considerable moral authority; and this would presently be shared with St Paul, when he too had come out of his Cilician retirement. Of course by its very nature this position was temporary as well as informal. Strange to say, we hear nothing about Elders. Since we know that the Ecclesia of Jerusalem had long had Elders, and St Paul on returning from his first journey in Asia Minor had appointed Elders for each local Ecclesia, it is hardly credible that they were wanting at Antioch, to say nothing of the influence of the precedent of the great 91Jewish population. But in the Acts we hear only of “the brethren” (xv. 1, 32, 33) or “the disciples” (xi. 26, 29; xiv. 28) or “the multitude” (xv. 30) or “the ecclesia” (xi. 26; xiii. 1; xiv. 27). Evidently at this time the general body of disciples at Antioch must have taken at least a large share in the acts of the Christian community.92
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