Tag Archives: james the brother of jesus

Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Part II

The majority of scholars agree on some basic events in the life of Jesus. E.P. Sanders has written, “There are no substantial doubts about the general course of Jesus’ life: when and where he lived, approximately when and where he died, and the sort of thing that he did during his public activity …” (Sanders, 11). You simply will not find any real expert denying these things.

Even the liberal Jesus Seminar scholar, John Dominic Crossan, admits that the crucifixion of Jesus is historical “as sure as anything historical can be” (Crossan, 145). It’s one of the major points of agreement between liberal and conservative Jesus scholars. For any person to deny the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, they must be ignorant of history or purposely distorting the facts. Ancient historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and the Jewish Talmud, mention that Jesus was crucified.

[This is an embarrassing historical blunder on behalf of the Quran, which denies that Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross (Surah 4:157-158). That’s not some insignificant textual variant or slight discrepancy in the Islamic text, that’s what you call a historical contradiction—plain and simple.]

So, let’s get the facts straight. Jesus really lived, he was crucified, he died, and he was buried. And Joseph of Arimathea let Jesus use the family tomb for the weekend (Mk 15:42-47; Matt 27:57-61; Lk 23:50-54).

II. Empty Tomb, Resurrection Appearances, & Growth of the Early Church

The empty tomb is recorded and admitted by Christians, enemies of Jesus, and skeptics alike—in ancient and modern times. All four canonical Gospels mention the empty tomb. Paul affirms the empty tomb with the early creed in 1 Cor 15:3-4, and so does Luke in Acts 13:29.

While you can find scholars today that refuse to acknowledge an empty tomb (e.g. Crossan believes that Jesus’ body was discarded with criminals and eaten by dogs), most scholars recognize the empty tomb as a historical fact. The empty tomb makes the most historical sense. If the body wasn’t missing, the early Christian message could have been easily stamped out with, “Resurrected? We have his body right here!”

The big question is ‘why was it empty?’

The Jewish polemic against the Christian message was that the disciples had stolen the body (Matt 28:11-15; Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, 108; Tertullian’s On Spectacles, 30). Matthew writes, “And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day” (28:15). If you have a “stolen” body, then you have an empty tomb.

The swoon theory was first proposed in the eighteenth century. This theory claims that Jesus was not really dead after all, but merely slipped into a coma, later to be revived in the cold conditions of the dark tomb.

Let there be no mistake. The Romans knew how to kill condemned criminals. While there may have been an occasion where someone escaped the cross (e.g. when Romans fled the scene of battle), the historical evidence in the case of Jesus does not allow for a great escape. The medical evidence recorded in the Gospels indicates a certain death (Jn 19:34).

“. . . interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” The Journal of the American Medical Association “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” Vol. 255 (March 21, 1986), 1463.

David Strauss, a nineteenth century liberal scholar, was unconvinced of the swoon theory, saying that a half-dead Jesus would not have convinced his disciples of a glorified resurrection. Strauss points out that you can’t talk about the empty tomb without considering the transformation that took place with the disciples who had previously abandoned Jesus. How can we explain what they claimed they saw, and empowered them to speak the message of the risen Jesus?

According to a small few, the disciples actually had some sort of mass LSD trip, a group hallucination. Yeah, that’s the theory some have proposed—they were trippin’ with the psychedelic Christ!

After you’re done laughing, please keep reading.

There are many reasons why this theory doesn’t add up. In short, the disciples claimed to have touched him, ate with him, yet he walked through walls! Also, there has never been one documented account of an entire group of people having the same hallucinations. And the disciples would need to be under a continual psychotic delusion to face martyrdom with non-resistance, declaring that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Other theories have been proposed: Jesus had a twin brother that dropped in after the crucifixion and appeared to the disciples; the women went to the wrong tomb; and the resurrection was only spiritual. But none of these theories can account for all of the historical evidence, what the disciples believed were resurrection appearances, the teaching of the apostles, and the growth of the early church in the face of intense persecution.

“I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attest to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know that as a historian that they must have seen something.” Paula Fredriksen (Boston University) Peter Jennings interview, July 2000.

Even the late atheist, Christopher Hitchens admits that “something was going on” that Sunday morning. But what was going on? Whatever it was, it was enough to change the mind of James, the brother of Jesus, and Saul of Tarsus, a zealous Pharisee and persecutor of the church.

James becomes the leader of the Jerusalem church, and he is later martyred for his belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Seriously! Who is going to believe that their brother is the Son of God? James didn’t—not until some life-altering event. What could have happened to prompt the brother of Jesus to become one of the church’s greatest leaders? I think that an encounter with the risen Jesus is the most likely of all possible scenarios.

We’re told that Saul of Tarsus had a first-hand encounter with the resurrected Christ, while on his way to persecute the church in Damascus, Syria (Acts 9). Something happened to this Saul, student of the great Jewish teacher, Gamiliel (Acts 22:3). He said his transformation from persecutor to apostle was a result of being confronted by the resurrected and glorified Christ. What could change this zealous teacher of the Law? I can think of one thing, and one thing only. The apostle Paul had met the risen Jesus.

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus… ” Acts 4:33

The message of the resurrection of Jesus began circulating very early on in the Christian movement. And the growth of the early church steadily rose during local and empire-wide persecutions. By the early fourth century, there are estimates of about 3-5 million Christians in the Roman Empire. Was this a result of a stolen body or of a mass hallucination?

On multiple occasions, I have read and heard renowned scholar N.T. Wright make the claim that he knows nothing else that could explain the initial birth and rapid expansion of the early church, but that Jesus was really raised from the dead. I’m in agreement with Wright. The growth of the early church occurred because the church was on a mission for the resurrected Jesus. She advanced in humble service and sacrificial love, not by coercive force or religious violence.

What is most convincing to me at this point in my examination of the Gospels is the way the story of the resurrection is told. Fitting with the principle of embarrassment, the Gospel writers report that it was women who first found the empty tomb and met the risen Jesus (Matt 281-10; Mk 16:1-11; Lk 24:1-11). This is rather peculiar since women were not even considered reliable witnesses in a first century law court (Josephus, Ant. 4.219).

It’s no surprise that the disciples did not believe the report of distraught women (Lk 24:11). They would need to see Jesus for themselves.

Why would they tell it like that unless it really happened that way? If you’re making up a story about a resurrected Messiah, especially when the whole idea was foreign to Judaism in the first place, the last thing you do is have women as the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and resurrection. But there is no attempt made to gloss over this embarrassing episode.

I believe this account is historically accurate. I believe this adds to the credibility of the story. It’s heavy evidence in the case for the resurrection.

For this reason, and many reasons that I will not mention here, the historical narrative reads as an authentic retelling of the events. The tomb was indeed empty. I believe the physical resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the empty tomb, the experiences of the disciples, and the rapid growth of the early church against all odds.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Now Read: Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Part III.                 Limitations of Science & Boundaries of Human Reason                                   Conclusion—Believing in the Face of Objections & Seasons of Doubt


The Law in James

James, the brother of Jesus, writes: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (2:24).

It might appear that James is contradicting the apostle Paul, who writes: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law (Rom 3:28).

Paul also states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no once can boast” (Eph 2:8-9). But James says, “faith by itself, if it not accompanied by action is dead” (2:17).

What should we make of this? Is this a glaring contradiction?

It’s no secret that Paul, an educated Pharisee, frequently had his ministry of the gospel threatened by the Law-peddlers, those Judaizers (2 Cor 11:1-15). His letter to the Galatians was prompted by confusion over the place of the Mosaic “works of the law” in salvation (Gal 3:1-5, also Acts 15). He also speaks to this issue in Romans 3-4.

It is evident that Paul’s “observing the law” (Rom 3:28) concerns those covenant boundary markers within the Torah that separate Jews from Gentiles. Paul is saying that a person is not saved (i.e. become a Christian) by adhering to old covenant boundaries.

The law of Moses is fulfilled in Christ and the “law of the Spirit of life” (Rom 8:2; Gal 3:19). This is the main thrust of Paul’s message. But we see James using “law” differently in his epistle. Let’s take a brief look at each instance.

1:25 “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.”

This is the first mention of nomos (law) in the book of James. He says that the “perfect law” should be gazed into like a mirror (1:23-25). He has already used teleios (perfect) to describe a “gift” that comes from God (1:4,17). The “law of liberty” indicates that observance of the law brings freedom.

But whose law? The law of Moses or Jesus?

Notice, James is using “law” to describe moral behavior in the immediate context—behavior that is encouraged in the teachings of Jesus.

2:8If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.”

James is using the “royal law” in a general way to describe the law of the kingdom of Christ—the law that was ratified by Jesus. It goes to the heart of the law to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18; Matt 19:19; 22:39).

James is drawing attention to Jesus’ summation of Torah. There is no indication that he is using “law” in verse 8 to refer to Jewish ritual.

2:9But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

This favoritism is quite the contrast with the previous law of love (2:8; also Lev 19:15). Showing partiality is sin and disobedience to the lawgiver—the one who gave the law of love.

This “law” in James does not utilize a Pauline “works of the law” to encompass covenant boundaries. The law in verse 9 refers to that law laid down by Christ.

2:10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”

What is the “whole law” in James? The previous two verses indicate that the “royal law” or the “law of love” is in view here. James’ focus is the law of Christ, which is summed up in love. Those who break the “royal law” are held responsible for rebellion against the lawgiver and all that he has given as a gift to lead a person in the law of love.

2:12So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.”

Once again, all human behavior should come under submission to the “law of liberty” which Jesus set forth as key to obedience. This law shows the way of life and points away from sin. If a person operates out of the “law of liberty,” there they will be led down a path of obedience instead of judgment. The “law of liberty” should impact present moral behavior.

4:11Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it.”

If a person does not walk in accordance to this law of love set forth by Christ, then they “speak against the law” and have placed themselves as a judge over it. Slandering another brother in the Lord is to slander Christ and his law. A person who “judges the law” will then exalt himself to determine which laws to keep and which to ignore.

The law of love prohibits this behavior.

The book of James uses a combination of the Decalogue and Leviticus 19:18 as a summary of the “royal law” that Christ taught. James indicates that behavior and right conduct play a significant role in receiving God’s righteousness (1:20).

Within the context, James is combating the false dichotomy of faith and works. He argues that God’s righteousness is a “harvest” that is sewn through good deeds (3:18). Those good deeds come out of obedience to the law of love. A true believer proves they are saved by their deeds.

So, it’s safe to say that the “law” in James is that which Paul called the “law of the Spirit of life,” not the Law of Moses. Therefore, there is no contradiction. They both agree that Christ is the giver of a new law and that obedience to his commands are evidence of salvation’s power.

In light of the construction of the epistle and the specific issues being addressed by James to these scattered Jewish Christians, it looks as if his audience lives within a collapsing world. We find in James a theology of suffering for these struggling believers.

James is reminding his audience that the Lord Jesus Christ has not forgotten them and that his presence is calling them to display their faith through good deeds as those who are faithful “doer(s) of the law” (4:11).

D.D. Flowers, 2011.

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