Paul vs. James (Pt. 2)
By William Handschumacher
A Special Rock of Offence Bible Study
This is Part 2 of a fourteen-part Bible study.
The other parts of this study are available
Grace Does Not Release
Us From Holy Living
To avoid any misunderstanding - we are not saying that preaching against sin is wrong. As with many topics in the Bible, there is both a right and a wrong way to approach the subject. Preaching against sin the wrong way - according to the rules of Old Testament Law - brings torment and condemnation. But, preaching about how God now deals with sin and the sinner following the cross (under the New Covenant) brings assurance of salvation and liberty. Those of us who embrace the Grace of Christ, as taught in the Epistles of Saint Paul, are often accused of excusing sin ... because we embrace the Scriptural truth that sin no longer has the authority to prevent anyone from receiving eternal life.
"For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Romans 6:14)
However, these common accusations are usually an attempt by the critics to defend their popular anti-grace agenda found in various brands of Replacement theology and 'Christianized Judaism'.
God's complete program of salvation consists of three distinct stages. Receiving God's gift of eternal life is the first stage. The second stage is known as "Sanctification" and is separated from the first. This is where the Holy Spirit begins to change our conduct in order to “conform us to the image of Christ”. Sanctification is also the stage where Christians learn to avoid sin and its trappings. But, as we reveal in this study, the supporters of false forms of Christianity attempt to mix everything together, rather than keeping it "rightly divided". This causes many to insist that achieving some level of Sanctification is a requirement to receive God's gift of eternal life. Yet, Scripture warns that these two stages must remain separated ... because mixing them together not only makes His gift nonsensical - but also creates one of the most dangerous heresies found within Christendom. More information on "The 3 Stages of Salvation" is available HERE
The popular religious error of holding eternal life hostage to Sanctification is why we often repeat the following Scriptural admonition in our various studies and commentaries.
Obtaining salvation through the unmerited and undeserved favor of God (called “Grace”) does not release us from the task of avoiding sin, doing good works, adopting Christ-Like behavior and holy living. God instructs all Christians to seek after these things. However, these attributes are never to be used as 'conditions' to obtain His gift of eternal life. Scripture instructs us to avoid sin because it is inconsistent with our new life in Christ (Romans 6:1-4). Our Heavenly Father also tells His children that seeking these character attributes is the right thing to do - because they represent "the Body of Christ" on earth (Ephesians 1:15-23).
Worldly people often form their beliefs and opinions about God by observing the conduct and behavior of His representatives. If the believer’s conduct involves a sinful lifestyle, it often causes those around them to have an improper or false perception of God – that often leads to total rejection. Yet, despite these reasons, our Heavenly Father sternly warns that these Christ-like attributes (which involves much work and effort to develop) must never be used as requirements or pre-conditions to obtain and keep what Scripture calls, God’s unmerited and undeserved gift of eternal life. (Ephesians 2:8-9, Galatians 2:19-21, Galatians 3:10-12 and Galatians 5:4, Romans 4:4-8, Titus 3:5-7)
A New Testament Guide
for Finding the Truth
Contrary to popular opinion, God condemns the practice of interpreting the Bible any way we want - while expecting Him to honor our self-defined faith. Yet, the Bible does provide instructions on how to perform a correct interpretation; if our goal is to come to “a knowledge of the truth”. Because of preconceived ideas and cherished denominational teachings many reject these instructions, which will not be discussed in detail here. However, the Scripture quoted below is included in these instructions ... and is so important that we repeat it throughout this study.
“See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him (Jesus Christ) who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him (the resurrected Jesus Christ) Who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.’” (Hebrews 12:22-26)
It is here that we see the two separate and distinct roles of Christ (and the programs they represent). His first role concerns what He taught during His earthly ministry as Israel's Messiah (covered in more detail later in this study). His second role involves what He is now teaching from heaven as the risen Lord and Savior of the Church. In both cases, Christians often assume (or are incorrectly taught by their church) that Jesus is speaking the same message.
But ... Christ's earthly words
are spoken before the cross and
His heavenly words are spoken
after the cross--where our
salvation was purchased by His
blood--making it "God's gift".
In this context-sensitive situation, the cross separates Christ's Messianic role directed exclusively at Israel - from His New Covenant role as Lord and Head of the Church. This latter role could only begin after His crucifixion, resurrection, ascension - and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The cross changed everything having to do salvation that previously existed, which is why these two divine messages listed in Hebrews 12:22-26 are radically different.
Yet, in both cases, the same
Jesus is doing the speaking,
but at different times relative
to the cross. This 'difference
in messages' is an important
THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST
However, the way most church leaders and their followers treat these two different roles of Christ - is to mix them together rather than keeping them separated - or "rightly divided" as Saint Paul commanded in 2 Timothy 2:15.
When these programs are mixed together - a dangerous heresy is created that leads many astray without their knowledge. It creates a false belief that God continues to judge and view sin (and the sinner) the same way after the cross ... as He did before the cross. This is a popular theology (discussed later in this study) that dominates modern-day Christendom and tricks many professing Christians into believing that they are walking in authentic "faith in Christ"; when just the opposite is true.
Discovering God's Mystery
As with any honest study of the New Testament, one of the first things we learn is that Christ's salvation, also known as "The New Covenant", is referred to as "a mystery". Saint Paul, who wrote over half of the New Testament refers to it as; "The Mystery of Christ". As a result, Paul reveals in his writings that a series of events needed to occur before the mystery was fully revealed. This is very similar to reading and understanding any well-written mystery novel. Sometimes, you don't learn the truth until the very end.
Any police detective will tell you that mysteries often require us to follow the evidence, regardless of where it leads. The same is true for anyone who wants to understand "The Mystery of Christ". The problem is ... many falsely religious ministers do not like where the evidence leads - so they use Scripture "out of context" to change the outcome in their favor. But in this study, the only valid evidence is the Holy Scriptures, which exists as "God's official rule book". No church, denomination or minister is permitted to use their own doctrine as evidence when it contradicts Scripture ... or violates its context. In other words, God does not allow "evidence tampering".
Why an In-depth Examination
Concerning the Doctrines of
both Paul and James is
A popular misconception found among Christians - is thinking that everything written under the heading of "The New Testament" represents a description or definition of "New Testament Salvation". The following statement tells us why this popular view is incorrect:
The purpose of the New Testament is to record the 'transition' from an Old Testament works-based salvation that governed before the cross (Bible scholars often call it "meritorious salvation") ... to Christ's New Covenant Grace-based salvation that now governs after the cross. Each of these programs operate according to a different set of covenant rules, which is why it's illegal to mix them together.
The full transition (from one
program to the other) pivots
around the crucifixion of
Christ, which also includes His
resurrection, ascension - and
the arrival of the Holy Spirit
on the day of Pentecost in
Acts chapter 2.
As a result, the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are 'transitional writings' that generally speak (with some exceptions) about how God's previous program of salvation operated before the cross and the day of Pentecost. Since these writings occur under the heading of the New Testament, a vast majority of Christians believe they contain 'the full revelation of New Testament salvation'. But, New Testament salvation (also known as "the New Covenant of Christ") is only fully revealed starting in chapter 10 of the book of Acts with the preaching of Peter at the household of Cornelius (discussed later in this study) ... and continues in the "Epistles of Saint Paul to the Church".
When we ignore Paul's Epistles (a common practice in the modern church) - while thinking that the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John represent the full revelation of New Testament salvation - we go dangerously astray in our faith.
Christians often make a similar mistake with the Epistle of James, which continues to teach the Old Testament Law-based salvation of "justification by works". But, the Apostle Paul, speaking to the Church (and all Christians today), makes it clear that we are "freely justified by faith in Christ apart from works".
"...Being justified freely by His Grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26)
(Important Note: The word "freely" means no works are required for the Christian's justification).
Since the Epistle of James is located in the New Testament section of our Bible, a majority (but thankfully not all) of denominations, church leaders - along their devoted followers - insist that the author is addressing his writings to the Church ... when the salutation at the beginning of the letter clearly shows their position to be wrong. Unfortunately, this is not some kind of minor disagreement ... because wrongly assigning the Epistle of James to the Church (when the author says that his writings are addressed to a different group) causes our interpretation of the New Testament to be riddled with contradictions and massive confusion.
But, rather than correct the mistake, church leaders and major denominations chose to solve the problem by illegally mixing the salvation doctrines of Paul and James together - which now makes New Testament salvation dependent upon faith in Christ - plus works - plus other forms of "Old Testament law-keeping". As a result, this widely-accepted "compromise" redefines (Saint Paul uses the word "perverts") Christ's salvation into something God never intended - and is found in both Roman Catholicism and major Protestant denominations that embrace Calvinism and various brands of Reformed and Replacement theology.
These groups represent more than 80% of what many consider to be the world-wide institutional Christian Church.
Combining faith in Christ ... with performing righteous works and various forms of "law-keeping" as the way to recieve salvation is a popular false gospel that God rejects. Paul warned - that ministers (and their followers) who teach this kind of gospel to the Church (or Body of Christ) are under a curse (See Galatians 1:6-8). Insisting that James is 'an Epistle addressed to the Church' when it's actually addressed to another group governed by a previous covenant program - is an error that was introduced around the fourth century and continues to do untold damage to the Gospel of Christ. One day we may learn that this "works-based gospel" is responsible for causing many well-intentioned people to miss heaven. Unfortunately, some will be 'professing Christians' who tried to obtain salvation in a way that God rejects. We should remember that most heresy and false doctrines are nothing more than Scripture that has been lifted from its intended context. This is why an uncomfortable and unpopular examination of Paul vs. James is necessary.
"There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." (Proverbs 14:12)
The Epistle of James, while not specifically addressed to the Church - provides other beneficial information concerning godly conduct and holy living. All Christians should take advantage of these instructions. However, they must also be aware that the works-based salvation (theologians often refer to this as "meritorious salvation") presented by James is correct for the Twelve Tribes of Israel to whom his epistle is specifically addressed - but is not binding upon the Church of Jesus Christ whose salvation (now given as "God's gift") is governed by God's unmerited and undeserved favor known as Grace - and is therefore not based on works. Once again, Saint Paul referred to this kind of discernment as "rightly (or correctly) dividing the Word of God", which was his way of saying that we must respect the Divine context of Scripture in order to "come to a knowledge of the truth" (See 2 Timothy 2:15).
(Paul speaking to the Church) "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, NOT OF WORKS, lest anyone should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Addressing Some Popular
One major proof that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are written (with a few exceptions) under the 'Old Testament program of the Bible' ... is the following declaration made by Jesus at the "Last Supper" ;
"This cup is the New Covenant
in My blood, which is shed
"The Last Supper" is found near the end of all four gospel accounts - and took place shortly before Christ’s crucifixion. Many wrongly believe that Christ's declaration concerning the New Covenant proves that it was either operational in all the writings of the four gospels - or it began when Jesus made His announcement. However, the New Covenant could not begin until after Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, ascension - and the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. All of these events had to happen - first. As a result, Jesus was actually introducing the New Covenant as a future Divine spiritual government established through His sacrificial blood ... that wouldn’t start until the price was fully paid.
If the New Covenant was not in operation when Jesus made His announcement at the Last Supper (and it wasn't) - then the program of Old Testament Law continued to govern before and during Christ's earthly ministry – which has a major impact on our understanding of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
What Does the Bible Say?
The following comments are from Dr. Dwight Pentecost's book entitled; "Thy Kingdom Come". Dr. Pentecost is a distinguished theologian on the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary - and sheds more light on our discussion from an official source. Below is a quote from Chapter 17 page 184 of his book.
"Chronologically speaking, there is a 400-year gap between Malachi and Matthew. Logically and thematically, however, there is no gap at all (meaning that the Law still continued from Malachi to Matthew despite this gap of time). The New Testament immediately takes up where the Old Testament prophets left off. In fact, "technically" the New Testament does not begin with Matthew, but with the book of Acts."
Some readers may think that our beliefs concerning the actual starting point of New Testament salvation (as discussed in this study) is some 'new teaching or pet doctrine'. The reason Dr. Pentecost's comments are included in some of our writings is to show that other theologians are also attempting to correct these flawed methods of Bible interpretation that lead us dangerously astray from the truth. Including these comments does not necessarily mean that we agree with everything Dr. Pentecost teaches. But, we do believe his comments on this subject represent a neglected truth that should be understood by all students of the Bible.
When correctly examining Scripture, it's important to know that words mean things - especially the words of Jesus. Unfortunately, some involve the use of various 'Jewish idoms' that require additional study. This often produces loop-holes that allow critics to introduce corrupt interpretations. Many churches and denominations use a method called "spiritualizing Scripture" - rather than interpreting Scripture in a 'literal' sense. This practice - also referred to as "twisting Scripture" - allows them to apply almost any interpretation to verses that already have a clear meaning. These popular yet dishonest methods are very frustrating to those who seek truth. Yet, little can be done about this wide-spread practice, which is why this study will not benefit those whose minds are already made up. However, since the truth of the Gospel is at stake, we will do what other concerned Bible teachers have done ... and release this important study despite the criticism.
This is Part 2 of a fourteen-part Bible study.
The other parts of this study are available
Return To Home Page
Return To Basics of Salvation Page