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The Close Connections of James and Paul

I continue here my comparison of the wording of the book of James to the writing of Paul,  in order to establish the point that whoever wrote James, it was someone who was directly responding to the letters of Paul (because he imitates Paul’s wording while refuting his views.)  This will lead then to my argument – not yet made – that the author of James is in fact writing a “counter-forgery” – that is he is writing a forgery in order to counter later writings forged in the name of Paul.  (I know this can be confusing: but I’m not saying he’s writing directly against Paul.  He may *think* he is, but my argument is that he will be opposed to later writings claiming to be Paul; that argument will start in my next post.)

Here now is the second example of the borrowing of Pauline writings:


James 2:24 and Gal. 2:16 and Rohhhm. 3:28

James 2:24:  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone

Gal. 2:16: Knowing that a person is not justified by works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.

Rom. 3:28:  For we suppose a person is justified  y faith apart from works of the law.

The parallels among the passages, much noted for centuries, are striking still today: all of them contain a verb of knowing, an indefinite “person,” the verb “justified” in the passive voice, and the antithetical contrast of works and faith.  Nowhere else in all of early Christian literature are these elements combined.   Yet the two authors take what appear  to be – at least on the surface –opposite sides of the argument, one insisting that …

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Is the Author of James Rejecting Paul Himself?
Is James Responding to Paul?



  1. Avatar
    Bernice Templeman  August 2, 2019

    I am wondering if the Jewish Messiah is a son of man, who follows the Jewish laws, but is not a spiritual child of God, even though we are all born in the Garden and learn sin, that their Works and prayers have not reconnected them to God. Not in the Garden.
    We can get back into the Garden. We are tempted(like Jesus) by sin, and we can choose not to sin. I don’t think we have to be poor, suffer, or be crucified. I think the key is that we can say no to sin.
    We have the old story of us and our new story.
    We each can stop sinning and have eternal life. We can rise again, although it might be longer than three days, and it might not be how we expect.

    We need to change our hearts, thoughts, and actions (works). I don’t think we need to follow Jewish laws.
    We have to be equals and kind. We can be successful and unique without putting others down and harming others.

    We have to free our minds with our thoughts and actions. Empower yourselves by choosing not to sin. Sin is actions. You may have a sinful thought but choose not to act on it. It wouldn’t be a sin if you didn’t act on it.
    You come back to God/Heaven/Spirit/Universe by changing your hearts, thought, and actions to be with God. You choose not to sin when you are tempted. That is how you forgive yourself for past sins, you change. You stop sinning. You are no longer who you were. You were born good, learned to choose sin, and can learn to choose well.

    People have a choice. Some may believe that they can go to heaven by believing Jesus died for all the sins they will make in their life, not requiring them to change their sinful behavior (faith in Jesus, not themselves… Jesus’ work not their works). Others may believe they can do good works to pay for their sins without changing their behavior. Finally, there are some who believe they can change their hearts, thoughts, and works.

    People struggled with different thoughts then as they do now. Does having conflicts in the Bible set up conflict between people? Did the Bible create sinners? Have many suffered for thousands of years because of conflicts in the Bible?
    What if it just said you need to be equals, good, abundant, and not rule other people. (Genesis 1).

    • Avatar
      AstaKask  August 3, 2019

      What does ‘good’ mean in this context? How do you know? I mean, wasn’t that the point of the Law? Do this, don’t do that, and you’ll be right with God and your fellow Jews.

  2. Avatar
    meltuck  August 2, 2019

    Usually I find your writing very coherent and easy to follow. Not so here. I think I was able to figure it out, but I was glad this post was a short one.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 3, 2019

      Ha! Yes, that’s the difference between writing for normal human beings and for abnormal scholars. The post was lifted out of my scholarly work. Luckily I do that only on occasion on the blog, to give people a taste of it. It obviously works better for some people than others, and the others are far more than the some! Still, not bad to do from time to time. My next post or two will be in that vein as well. Sorry!

      • Avatar
        jhague  August 5, 2019

        Out of curiosity, why do scholars write and speak differently to each other. It does seem very difficult to comprehend.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 6, 2019

          It’s true in all fields, of course. Try reading serious scholarship in psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, classics, archaeology — pick your field! It’s because to communicate quickly and effectively requires both background knowledge and shorthand; spelling everything out to people who know all about it simply doesn’t work (it’d be sort of like having to explain every word you use whenever you use a word; not that extreme of course, but the same kind of issue)

  3. Avatar
    Aman  August 2, 2019

    Dr. Bart, thank u for all the insights u had given me on the letter to james on the last couple of posts, but my question is do u think paul and james had the same view regarding salvation, regardless of the latter forgeries written in their names? And did u think james and the ebionities had the same view regarding the identity of jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 3, 2019

      Yes, I do think both of them thought that salvation came by believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection. I’m not sure if we know in detail what either James or the group we sometimes call the Ebionites thought about Jesus, but I assume they were pretty close. to one another.

      • Robert
        Robert  August 3, 2019

        Bart: “Yes, I do think both of them [Paul and James, not their later forgers] thought that salvation came by believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection. I’m not sure if we know in detail what either James or the group we sometimes call the some Ebionites thought about Jesus, but I assume they were pretty close. to one another.”

        What is your source for what James believed about soteriology? Are you basing this on later reports of what Ebionites believed and assuming that was pretty close to what James himself believed? Or are you just assuming that all ‘Christians’, even James, the [i]Jewish[/i] ‘Christian’ [i]par excellence[/i] necessarily held to salvation through belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection? Neither of those assumptions seem like assumptions you would want to make as a careful and erudite historian.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 4, 2019

          I just mean what James says about justification.

          • Robert
            Robert  August 4, 2019

            Bart: “I just mean what James says about justification.”

            Do you mean the forger or the real James (who the question concerned)?

          • Bart
            Bart  August 5, 2019

            Ah, sorry — I misunderstood, as usual. I thought you were talking about the author of the book. What did the *historical* James believe? I think our only solid evidence is Galatians 2 with secondary support from Acts (esp. ch. 15). My sense is that James agreed with Paul’s basic soteriology, otherwise Paul would have been on a real rampage about it. Jesus’ death and resurrection brought about a restored relationship with God. Where they differed was on the issue of how that affects a person’s relationship with Judaism. Was it necessary for Jews to continue keeping the law, to the extent of refusing to associate with fellow believers in Jesus who were, however, gentile? And what should be asked of gentile believers of Jesus vis-a-vis the law.

  4. Avatar
    fishician  August 2, 2019

    Do you think there is any significance that the author of James does not mention Paul by name? Paul called out people by name in his letters. Perhaps this is evidence that he was countering teachings derived from Paul rather than Paul and his letters directly?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2019

      Yeah, it’s a good question. My sense is that he’s attacking a point of *view* rather than a *person* (like someone today who attacks democratic socialism without naming a presidential candidate who supports it) (it *does* happen!)

  5. Avatar
    qditt  August 3, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, as always, thank you for the information provided in this blog. I have a two part question if you don’t mind, and again, if I’m asking something already covered, feel free just to day “look here dang it.”

    1. From ancient manuscripts, what do you believe John (The Baptist) and Jesus relationship to be? Why did Jesus go out of his way to help people but not John in his time of need.

    2. If you could have dinner with 3 people from history, who would they be? And why? Just curious, and if it’s too personal you don’t need to answer.

    As always, thank you for the work, making it so accessible, and for helping those in need.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2019

      1. I think Jesus was John’s disciple originally (that’s a very common view among scholars). Help him when he was imprisoned you mean? And do you mean why, in actual history didn’t he help him? I suppose it would be because he was powerless to do anything about it.

      2. Jesus, Peter, and Paul!

  6. Avatar
    Thespologian  August 3, 2019

    Have you offered an explanation why church fathers admitted what could be construed as contradictions into the Christian bible? Surely, they were apparent at the time of assemblage. We hear about scribes; who were the copy editors?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 4, 2019

      Most of them probably didn’t notice, just as most careful readers today don’t.

  7. Avatar
    Zak1010  August 3, 2019

    Since you brought forth the fact that the word ‘ Justified ‘ was not commonly used, Can an alternative explanation indicate that the same author wrote both Paul’s forged letters and this one? ( maybe to put some legitimacy in Paul’s letters ).

    Dr Ehrman, what is your position on the the letter from Parodios to Paul? ( the content and authenticity )

  8. Avatar
    rich-ilm  August 8, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman – In your 7/28/19 post, you started to discuss the ‘lateness’ of James based on works of the law, wealth, views of parousia, and helenized language. I’m curious re: the last few posts that it is not just a forgery, but a counter-forgery, responding to forgeries of Paul’s writings, how late you might put ‘James’?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 9, 2019

      I’m thinking at least the end of the first century, when these post-Pauline ideas were in fairly wide circulation.

  9. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 15, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    1 Corinthians 11:23-25: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you…”
    1 Corinthians 15:3-7: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance…”

    Do you think that in both cases Paul obtained these earliest of traditions from a disciple(s)? And so, more specifically, in the chapter 11 tradition do you think Paul means that he got the information (indirectly) from the Lord?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 16, 2019

      Yes, from other Christians; and yes, he saw that as meaning they came from the Lord.

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