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THE EPISTLE OF ST. JAMES.

13

CHAPTER II.
THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE EPISTLE OF ST. JAMES.

"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ."—Jas. i. 1.

THE question of the authenticity of this Epistle resolves itself into two parts—Is the Epistle the genuine product of a writer of the Apostolic age? if so, which of the persons of the Apostolic age who bore the name of James is the author of it? In answering the former of these two questions it is important to put it in the proper way. We have done a good deal towards the solution of a problem when we have learned to state it correctly; and the way in which we ought to approach the problem of the genuineness of this and other books of the New Testament is not, Why should we believe that these writings are what they profess to be? but, Why should we refuse to believe this? Have we any sufficient reason for reversing the decision of the fourth and fifth centuries, which possessed far more evidence on the question than has come down to us?

It must be remembered that that decision was not given mechanically or without consideration of doubts and difficulties; nor was it imposed by authority, until independent Churches and scholars had arrived at pretty much the same conclusion. And the decision, as soon 14 as it was pronounced, was unanimously accepted in both East and West—a fact which was ample guarantee that the decision was universally recognized as correct; for there was no central authority of sufficient influence to force a suspected decision upon mistrustful Churches. Eusebius, it is true, classes most of the Catholic Epistles among the "disputed" (ἀντιλεγόμενα) books of the New Testament, without, however, affirming that he shared the doubts which existed in some quarters respecting them. This fact, which is sometimes rather hastily taken as telling altogether against the writings which he marks as "disputed," really tells both ways. On the one hand, it shows that doubts had existed respecting some of the canonical books; and these doubts must have had some reason (whether valid or not) for existing. On the other hand, the fact that the authority of these books was sometimes disputed in the third century shows that the verdict formally given and ratified at the Council of Laodicea (c. 364)88   The date so frequently given, A.D. 363, cannot be substantiated, and on the whole is not probable. See Hefele, History of the Church Councils, II. vi. 93. was given after due examination of the adverse evidence, and with a conviction that the doubts which had been raised were not justified; and the universal welcome which was accorded to the verdict throughout Christendom shows that the doubts which had been raised had ceased to exist. If, then, on the one hand we remember that misgivings once existed, and argue that these misgivings must have had some basis, on the other we must remember that these misgivings were entirely abandoned, and that there must have been reason for abandoning them. What reason, then, have we 15 for disturbing the verdict of the fourth century, and reviving misgivings long ago put to rest?

Of course those who gave that verdict and those who ratified it were fallible persons, and no member of the English Church, at any rate, would argue that the question is closed and may not be reopened. But the point to be insisted upon is that the onus probandi rests with those who assail or suspect these books, rather than with those who accept them. It is not the books that ought, on demand, again and again to be placed on their trial, but the pleas of those who would once more bring them into court that ought to be sifted. These objectors deserve a hearing; but while they receive it, we have full right to stand by the decision of the fourth century, and refuse to part with, or even seriously to suspect, any of the precious inheritance which has been handed down to us. It may be confidently asserted that thus far no strong case has been made out against any of the five "disputed" Epistles, excepting 2 Peter; and with regard to that it is still true to affirm that the Petrine authorship remains, on the whole, a reasonable "working hypothesis."

Do not let us forget what the epithet "disputed," applied to these and one or two99   The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse. other books of the New Testament, really means. It does not mean that at the beginning of the fourth century Eusebius found that these writings were universally regarded with suspicion; that is a gross exaggeration of the import of the term. Rather it means that these books were not universally accepted; that although they were, as a rule, regarded as canonical, and as part of the contents of the New Testament (ἐνδιάθηκοι γραφαί), yet in some 16 quarters their authority was doubted or denied. And the reasons for these doubts were naturally not in all cases the same. With regard to 2 Peter, the doubt must have been as to its genuineness and authenticity. It claimed to be written by "Simon Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ" and a witness of the Transfiguration (2 Peter i. 1, 18); but the obscurity of its origin and other circumstances were against it. With regard to James, Jude, and 2 and 3 John the doubt was rather as to their Apostolicity. They did not claim to be written by Apostles. There was no reason for doubting the antiquity or the genuineness of these four books; but granting that they were written by the persons whose name they bore, were these persons Apostles? And if they were not, what was the authority of their writings? The doubts with regard to the Revelation and to the Epistle to the Hebrews were in part of the same character. Were they in the full sense of the term Apostolic, as having been written by Apostles, or at least under the guidance of Apostles? Eusebius says expressly that all these "disputed" books were "nevertheless well known to most people."1010   γνωρίμων δ' οὖν ὅμως τοῖς πολλοῖς (H. E. III. xxv. 3), where γνώριμος, as usual, indicates familiar knowledge. Eusebius is a desultory writer, and one has to gather his views from statements scattered over chaps. iii., xxiv., and xxv., some of which are not very precise. The following table seems to represent his opinion:— Canonical Books (ἐνδιάθηκοι γραφαί) Universally acknowledged (τὰ ὁμολογούμενα) Four Gospels, Acts, fourteen Epistles of Paul (Hebrews ?), 1 John, 1 Peter, Apocalypse (?). Disputed (τὰ ἀντιλεγόμενα) As to authenticity—2 Peter. As to Apostolicity—James, Jude, 2 and 3 John. Uncanonical Orthodox, but of no authority, because defective As to authenticity—Acts of Paul, Shepherd, Apocalypse of Peter. As to Apostolicity—Epistle of Barnabas, Doctrines of the Apostles, Gospel according to Hebrews, Apocalypse (?). Heretical Gospels of Peter, Thomas, Matthias, Acts of Andrew, John, etc., etc.

And it is manifest that the doubts which Eusebius records were ceasing to exist. Only in some cases does he indicate, and that without open statement, that he himself was at all inclined to sympathize with them. And Athanasius, writing a very short time afterwards (A.D. 326), makes no distinction between acknowledged and disputed books, but places all seven of the Catholic Epistles, as of equal authority, immediately after the 17 Acts of the Apostles.1111   Epist. Fest. xxxix. The passage is given in full by Westcott On the Canon, Appendix D., xiv. The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius cannot have been completed later than A.D. 325, but the earlier books were probably written about A.D. 313, soon after the Edict of Milan. See Bishop Lightfoot, Dict. of Chris. Biog., I., p. 322. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechetical Lectures, written before his episcopate, c. A.D. 349, does the same (Lect. IV. x. 36). Some fifteen years later we have the Council of Laodicea, and near the end of the century the Council of Hippo, and the third Council of Carthage, giving formal ratification to these generally received views; after which all questioning for many centuries ceased. So that while the classification into "acknowledged" and "disputed" writings proves that each book was carefully scrutinized, and in various quarters independently, before it was admitted to the canon, the cessation of this distinction proves that the result of all this scrutiny was 18 that the sporadic doubts and hesitations respecting certain of the books of the New Testament were finally put to rest.

And it must not be supposed that the process was one of general amnesty. While some books that had here and there been excluded were finally accepted, some that had here and there been included in the canon, such as the Epistles of Clement and of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas, were finally rejected. The charge of uncritical or indiscriminate admission cannot be substantiated. The facts are quite the other way.

When we confine our attention to the Epistle of James in particular, we find that if the doubts which were here and there felt respecting it in the third century are intelligible, the universal acceptance which it met with in the fourth and following centuries is well founded. The doubts were provoked by two facts—(1) the Epistle had remained for some time unknown to a good many Churches; (2) when it became generally known it remained uncertain what the authority of the writer was, especially whether he was an Apostle or not. It is possible also that these misgivings were in some cases emphasized by the further fact that there is a marked absence of doctrinal teaching. In this Epistle the articles of the Christian faith are scarcely touched upon at all. Whether the apparent inconsistency with the teaching of St. Paul respecting the relation between faith and works, of which so much has been made since Luther's time, was discovered or not by those who were inclined to dispute the authority of this Epistle, may be doubted. But of course, if any inconsistency was believed to exist, that also would tell against the general reception of the letter as canonical.

19 That the Epistle should at first remain very little known, especially in the West and among the Gentile congregations, is exactly what we should expect from the character of the letter and the circumstances of its publication. It is addressed by a Jew to Jews, by one who never moved from the Church over which he presided at Jerusalem to those humble and obscure Christians outside Palestine who, by their conscientious retention of the Law side by side with the Gospel, cut themselves off more and more from free intercourse with other Christians, whether Gentile converts or more liberally-minded Jews. A letter which in the first instance was to be read in Christian synagogues (James ii. 2) might easily remain a long time without becoming known to Churches which from the outset had adopted the principles laid down in St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. The constant journeys of the Apostle of the Gentiles caused his letters to become well known throughout the Churches at a very early date. But the first Bishop of the Mother Church of Jerusalem had no such advantages. Great as was his influence in his own sphere, with a rank equal to that of an Apostle, yet he was not well known outside that sphere, and he himself seems never to have travelled beyond it, or even to have left the centre of it. With outsiders, who simply knew that he was not one of the Twelve, his influence would not be great; and a letter emanating from him, even if known to exist, would not be eagerly inquired after or carefully circulated. Gentile prejudice against Jewish Christians would still further contribute to keep in the background a letter which was specially addressed to Jewish Christians, and was also itself distinctly Jewish in tone. Nor would the exclusive class of believers to whom the 20 letter was sent care to make it known to those Christians from whom they habitually kept aloof. Thus the prejudices of both sides contributed to prevent the Epistle from circulating outside the somewhat narrow circle to which it was in the first instance addressed; and there is therefore nothing surprising in its being unknown to Irenæus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Cyprian, and the author of the Muratorian Canon. There is no sign that these writers rejected it; they had never heard of it.1212   Harnack, Das Neue Testament um das Jahr 200 (Freiburg I. B., 1889), p. 79.

And yet the Epistle did become known at a very early date, at any rate to some outsiders, even in the West. It was almost certainly known to Clement of Rome, whose Epistle to the Church of Corinth (written c. A.D. 97) contains several passages, which seem to be reminiscences of St. James. And although not one of them can be relied upon as proving that Clement knew our Epistle, yet when they are all put together they make a cumulative argument of very great strength.1313    Compare Clement with James. x. 1 ii. 23. xi. 2 i. 8; iv. 8. xii. 1 ii. 25. xvii. 6 iv. 14. xxx. 2 iv. 6. xxxi. 2 ii. 21. xlvi. 5 iv. 1. xlix. 5 x. 20. So cautious and critical a writer as Bishop Lightfoot does not hesitate to assert, in a note on Clement, chap. xii., "The instance of Rahab was doubtless suggested by Heb. xi. 31; James ii. 25; for both these Epistles were known to St. Clement, and are quoted elsewhere." And the Epistle of St. James was certainly known to Hermas, a younger contemporary of Clement, and 21 author of the Shepherd, which was written in the first half, and possibly in the first quarter, of the second century.1414   Salmon, Introduction to the N.T., pp. 52, 582-91, 4th Ed. (Murray, 1889); Zahn, Geschichte des Neutestamentlichen Kanons (Erlangen, 1889), p. 962. Origen, in the works of which we have the Greek original, quotes it once as "the Epistle current as that of James" (τῇ φερομένῃ Ἰακώβου ἐπιστολῇIn Johan. xix. 6), and once (In Psal. xxx.) without any expression of doubt; and in the inaccurate Latin translations of others of his works there are several distinct quotations from the Epistle. So that it would seem to have reached Alexandria just as Clement, Origen's instructor and predecessor, left the city during the persecution under Septimius Severus (c. A.D. 202).1515   If Zahn is right in thinking that Clement knew, and perhaps commented on, the Epistle of James, it may have become known in Alexandria somewhat earlier. A few passages in Clement have possible reminiscences of James; e.g. in Strom. II. v. he says of Abraham that he is found to have been expressly called the "friend" of God (James ii. 23); and in Strom. VI. xviii., in connexion with loving one's neighbour (the βασιλικὸς νόμος of James ii. 8), he speaks of being βασιλικοί (Zahn, Geschichte des Neutestamentlichen Kanons, I., pp. 322, 323—Erlangen, 1888). The Hypotyposeis, in which Clement perhaps treated of the Catholic Epistles, were written after he left Alexandria (Ibid., p. 29).

But the conclusive fact in the external evidence respecting the Epistle is that it is contained in the Peshitto. This ancient Syriac Version was made in the second century, in the country in which the letter of James would be best known; and although the framers of this translation omitted 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude, they admitted James without scruple. Thus the earliest evidence for this Epistle, as for that to the Hebrews, is chiefly Eastern; while that for Jude, as for 2 and 3 John, is chiefly Western.

22 And the evidence of the Peshitto is not weakened by the fact, if it be a fact, that there was a still earlier Syrian canon which contained none of the Catholic Epistles. There is no certain allusion to them or quotation from them in the Homilies of Aphrahat or Aphraates (c. A.D. 335); and in the "Doctrine of Addai" (A.D. 250-300) the clergy of Edessa are directed to read the Law and the Prophets, the Gospel, St. Paul's Epistles, and the Acts, no other canonical book being mentioned. In all Churches the number of Christian writings read publicly in the liturgy was at first small, and in no case were the Catholic Epistles the first to be used for this purpose.

The internal evidence, as we shall see when we come to examine it more closely, is even more strong than the external. The character of the letter exactly harmonizes with the character of James the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and with the known circumstances of those to whom the letter is addressed, and this in a way that no literary forger of that age could have reached. And there is no sufficient motive for a forgery, for the letter is singularly wanting in doctrinal statements. The supposed opposition to St. Paul will not hold; a writer who wished to oppose St. Paul would have made his opposition much more clear. And a forger who wished to get the authority of St. James wherewith to counteract St. Paul's teaching would have made us aware that it was either an Apostle, the son of Zebedee or the son of Alphæus, or else the brother of the Lord, who was addressing us, and would not have left it open for us to suppose that the Epistle was from the pen of some unknown James, who had no authority at all equal to that of St. Paul. And let any one compare this Epistle with those of 23 Clement of Rome, and of Barnabas, and of Ignatius, and mark its enormous superiority. If it were the work of a forger, what a perplexing fact this superiority would be! If it be the work either of an Apostle or of one who had Apostolic rank, everything is explained.

Luther's famous criticism on the Epistle, that it is "a veritable Epistle of straw," is amazing, and is to be explained by the fact that it contradicts his caricature of St. Paul's doctrine of justification by faith. There is no opposition between St. James and St. Paul, and there is sometimes no real opposition between St. James and Luther (see p. 147). And when Luther gives as his opinion that our Epistle was "not the writing of any Apostle" we can agree with him, though not in the sense in which he means it; for he starts from the erroneous supposition that the letter bears the name of the son of Zebedee. We must also bear in mind his own explanation of what is Apostolic and what is not. It has a purely subjective meaning. It does not mean what was written or not written by an Apostle or the equal of an Apostle. "Apostolic" means that which, in Luther's opinion, an Apostle ought to teach, and all that fails to satisfy this condition is not Apostolic. "Therein all true holy books agree, that they preach and urge Christ. That too is the right touchstone whereby to test all books—whether they urge Christ or not; for all Scripture testifies of Christ (Rom. iii. 21).... That which does not teach Christ is still short of Apostolic, even if it were the teaching of St. Peter or St. Paul. Again, that which preaches Christ, that were Apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod preached it." The Lutheran Church has not followed him in this principle, which places the authority of any book of Scripture at the mercy of the likes and dislikes 24 of the individual reader; and it has restored the Epistles to the Hebrews and of James and Jude to their proper places in the New Testament, instead of leaving them in the kind of appendix to which Luther had banished them and the Revelation. Moreover, the passage containing the statement about the "veritable Epistle of straw"1616   Or, more literally, "a right strawy Epistle"—"eine rechte strohern Epistel.... Denn sie doch keine evangelische Art an sich hat" (Luther's Werke, ed. Gustav Pfizer, Frankfurt, 1840, p. 1412; see also pp. 1423, 1424, and Westcott On the Canon, 3rd ed., pp. 448-54). is now omitted from the preface to his translation. And with regard to this very point, his former friend and later opponent Andrew Rudolph Bodenstein, of Karlstadt, pertinently asked, "If you allow the Jews to stamp books with authority by receiving them, why do you refuse to grant as much power to the Churches of Christ, since the Church is not less than the Synagogue?" We have at least as much reason to trust the Councils of Laodicea, Hippo, and Carthage, which formally defined the limits of the New Testament, as we have to trust the unknown Jewish influences which fixed those of the Old. And when we examine for ourselves the evidence which is still extant, and which has greatly diminished in the course of fifteen hundred years, we feel that both on external and internal grounds the decision of the fourth century respecting the genuineness of the Epistle of St. James, as a veritable product of the Apostolic age and as worthy of a place in the canon of the New Testament, is fully justified.


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