Did Followers of James try to Kill Paul?

In My recent debate with David Wood I made the point that followers of James tried to kill Paul while he was in Jerusalem, and some are asking from where did I gather this from? Simple, the incident is recorded in the book of Acts, a very well known incident where Paul openly declared his Roman citizenship.

Now to clear something up, I never stated that James tried to kill Paul, but that followers of James tried to kill Paul. Now who are the followers of James? Historians often refer to his followers as Jewish-Christians due to the fact that these Christians still held strongly to the Jewish law and customs, unlike Paul, who had a much more liberal view in regards to the Law.

And it was this very point that led to the dispute between James and Paul, for which Paul was even summoned to Jerusalem, to discuss the issues surrounding the law and how it should be applied. This can be read in Acts 15. Now as for the incident in which people attempted to kill Paul, the reference comes in Acts 21, Coincidently Paul comes to Jerusalem to meet with the Church of Jerusalem, again, to discuss the issue surrounding the Law. In fact let us read it and see for ourselves:

And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem. Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge. And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they willhear that you have come. Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 21:15-25)

Notice what James tells Paul, and I have highlighted it, that there are a number of Jews who BELIEVE but they are also zealous for the Law, and these Christian Jews are concerned about Paul because they believe Paul teaches the people to forsake the law of Moses. Also keep in mind that James tells Paul to go the Temple to perform the purity acts and so he can inform the people of what he preaches, in fact James tells him what to say.

Now we read the next main part where people try to kill Paul, for these very issues James was talking about, the very thing James was talking about, comes into reality as we read:

Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them. Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.) And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut. Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done. And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another. So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks. When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob. For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, “Away with him!” (Acts 21:26-36)

So as James said, you have Jews accusing Paul of forsaking the Law, and they alongside others in Jerusalem are not happy about it and take Paul out of the temple. Now here is a point to remember, why was Paul in the temple? BECAUSE JAMES TOLD HIM TO GO THERE so he could explain himself to the people. And why were the people concerned, because they believed (rightly) that Paul was forsaking the Law, this was the main difference between Jewish Christians and Paul.

Now yes, the above doesn’t say ‘followers of James’, but the text doesn’t have to say ‘followers of James’ because right before this incident James himself talks about believing Jews, the important part, BELIEVING JEWS, and these BELIEVING JEWS are against Paul because they think he forsakes the law. So Luke doesn’t have to say ‘followers of James’ for us to realize it. As they say, simply connect the dots.

Secondly, it makes perfect sense for Luke to not say followers of James, as he wouldn’t want to portray a major conflict between the two factions in such magnitude. As some scholars even write, Luke’s account in Acts is a more reconciliatory account between Paul and James, between Paul and the other apostles etc. In essence Luke wants to portray an account where everybody got along just fine, at least between the believers, and obviously telling everybody that followers of James, who were zealous for the Law, wanted Paul dead is not something you’d want to say if your trying to portray a very reconciliatory account.

So in conclusion, I shall keep my contention, that followers of James, who were believers, and zealous for the law, tried to kill Paul.

Categories: Christianity

19 replies »

  1. Sami, I have to disagree.

    The narrative in Acts 21 tells of Paul just before his arrest in the Temple.

    Here are the relevant points:

    1) Paul visits James (verse 18), and the brothers “welcomed us warmly”

    2) The ‘brothers’ related to Paul the accusations against him: that he teaches all the Jews living amongst the Gentiles to forsake Moses and that he tells them not to circumcise their children. (verse 21)

    3) Paul is asked to undergo a rite of purification in the Temple so that all will know there is no truth in these accusations, and that he, Paul, observes and guards the Law.

    4) Paul undertook the rite.

    5) So James had absolutely no reason to then wish Paul killed, nor would any of James’ followers. Paul did what they asked and allayed their fears.

    However if we read a few verses further in Acts 21: 27-28 we read:

    When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, shouting, ‘Fellow-Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place…

    So according to Luke it was Jews from abroad who stirred up trouble for Paul not the disciples in Jerusalem.

    To conclude: nowhere in any first century source does it say that James’ followers tried to kill Paul or even imply this. Now, if you wish you can argue from silence and say James’ followers wanted Paul dead and tried to kill him, but this is pure speculation. You could also equally argue that Peter & John et al wanted Paul dead, after all no text says they didn’t try to kill Paul so it must be a possibility surely? But this is a very weak argument.

    • 1-Followers of James were NOT confined to Jerusalem, so them being from Asia changes nothing, James’ camp were going for Jews, Paul was going for Gentiles.

      2-The text CONTINUES and notes that people from JERUSALEM also joined in.

      3-As for the text saying ‘welcomed us warmly’, so what? They gave him a nice greeting, doesn’t mean the Church of James did not have concerns over Paul, and I NEVER SAID James or the elders tried to kill or Paul, or arranged it.

      4-This also goes to my point, that Luke tries to set a reconciling tone between the two camps, rather than conflict.

      5-Yes, Paul followed James’ INSTRUCTIONS, two different things, the accusations were still correct since Paul DID NOT COMMAND INSTRUCTION, and clearly taught Salvation comes from the faith, which you YOURSELF spoke about in your salvation debate and contrasted that with the message of faith and works. Even though Paul did that, and EXPLAINED himself to them, the people still refused it, because they still knew he was wrong and was indeed forsaking the law.

      So no, it is not arguing from silence so when you say I can just argue that Peter wanted Paul dead because no text didn’t say they didn’t, is a strawman, and a twisting of my argument as I did not argue from silence at all but backed the points up. James says there are zealous Jews having these concerns, BELIEVING JEWS, and then we find this happening, so I am not arguing from silence at all.

      • And now I also ask you Paul, why didn’t the ‘brothers’ ever once come to defend Paul? As a Jehovah’s witness writes:

        Where are the brothers now? They are nowhere to be found. Paul faces trial and accusation alone. No one, not even ONE of his brothers comes to his aid or appears in his defense to say “We know this man, he is a law-abiding Jew. In fact he was at the temple to show his respect for Jewish law by undergoing a purification rite.” Surely the testimony of local men would have served Paul well, but the Jerusalem brothers are evident by their absence. And it is they who sent to Paul to the temple to perform a meaningless ritual, and it is they who, by their own admission, say in Acts 21:22 “They will certainly hear that you have come.” So yes, I do say that it was the brothers in Jerusalem who saw to it that Paul was exposed while on his trip there.



      • your theory that James followers tried to kill Paul doesn’t make sense to me, in the light of the evidence.


        Paul is asked to undergo a rite of purification in the Temple so that all will know there is no truth in these accusations, and that he, Paul, observes and guards the Law. Paul undertook the rite. So James had absolutely no reason to then wish Paul killed, nor would any of James’ followers. Paul did what they asked and allayed their fears.

        But somehow you think that even though Paul did precisely what they wanted they wanted to murder him anyway. No. You have not established motive nor evidence of intent. Quite the opposite.

  2. Secondly Paul, I don’t know why now you act like Paul somehow was not against the Law and cleared all things up, by doing that purification act in the temple. You know full well that those Jewish Christians had every right to protest against Paul, you even recommend a book which talks all about this! James the Brother of Lord. So you now trying to say oh well Paul did that rite at the temple and that must have cleared all their misconceptions and that should have ended it, is BEYOND WEAK.

    Furthermore, Paul himself gave a DEFENCE of himself, and they still didn’t buy it, so therefore when you say they had no reason to want to kill Paul , well I’m afraid the text strongly disagrees with you on that one and you are the one arguing from silence now, and in clear contradiction to the actual text.

    • Sami, this is all straw manning I’m afraid. Let’s keep to the issue – your claim: Did Followers of James try to Kill Paul?

      In all of Paul’s letters when he mentions the deep disagreements he has with the Jerusalem apostles (see 2 Cor 11 and Galatians 1) he never mentions any physical threats to his life from that quarter. The real danger came from non-Christian Jews who did persecute him, threatened his life and wished him dead.

      So you have not carefully distinguished between these two quite different groups of Jews. In lumping them all together you have blamed the wrong people for the real threat that Paul did face.

      • James talked about Believing Jews who had concerns about Paul forsaking the Law, then we see Jews attacking Paul for forsaking the Law, if you refuse to make the simple connection, then that’s up to you. But it is not an argument from silence as you say, that is the strawman on your part, and you have repeated a strawman over and over again by saying James never wanted to kill Paul, can you reference me where I ever said that? Or simply concede the point that you were wrong and I never made that point.

  3. Paul, I don’t know why you keep saying James would have no reason to kill Paul, but excuse me, can you show me where I ever said that? You just keep misrepresenting my point when you say that.

    As for the followers of James, again, the text clearly contradicts you, because you say well Paul did the purification act in the Temple to allay the fears, erm, hello, the people still TRIED TO KILL HIM, they even DRAGGED HIM OUT OF THE TEMPLE after he did that. So obviously THEY DIDN’T GET THE MESSAGE. And wasn’t that the whole point? James told Paul to go the Temple and do the act so he could PROVE THE PEOPLE WRONG, but that didn’t happen now did it?

    Thirdly, who are those people that James wanted Paul to convince in the Temple? According to James they are BELIEVING Jews who are ALSO zealous for the law, and they were saying Paul had forsaken the Law. Now at the Temple you have Jews attacking Paul for forsaking the Law, hmmmmmm I wonder now which Jews James was talking about, eh? That is the furthest thing from an argument of silence, but a clear pattern of simply looking at the facts, and connecting the dots.

    You simply refuse to make the connection between the two, even though it’s clear as daylight.

    1- James meets Paul

    2- James tells Paul that many Jews are believers now

    3- James tells Paul these Jews are zealous for the Law

    4-James tells Paul these are Jews concerned about Paul

    5-James tells Paul that their concern regards the law, they believe Paul forsakes it

    6-James tells Paul to go the temple and to follow his instructions to prove them wrong

    7-At the temple there are Jews, who accuse Paul of forsaking the Law, as James exactly told us.

    8-Back to point 2-3, James tells us these Jews are BELIEVERS, Jews they have managed to bring in, in MYRIADS as he says.

    🙂 but you expect us to now ignore all of that and claim that it’s an argument of silence to say those Jews were the Jewish Christians even though they fully match the description James gave, and match the very description of people whom James wanted to convince at the temple.

  4. Yeah, I’m not convinced either. I think that rather than “connect the dots” you may have committed a basic logical fallacy:

    Jewish Christians in Jerusalem are jealous for Torah;
    the Jews that seized Paul were zealous for Torah;
    therefore, those who seized Paul were followers of James.

    Besides which, James never claims that he is the leader of those who are zealous for the Law, he just says that there are such people in Jerusalem. And it isn’t Jerusalem residents who seize Paul, but Jews from Asia. Paul’s speech was a description of the gospel, for Jews, that is he seems to assume they are not Jewish Christians.

    Hope you’ll drop by and visit my blog.

    • thanks for the comment Gary.

      Out of interest how do you view the fact that Paul is asked by James to undergo a rite of purification in the Temple so that all will know there is no truth in the accusations, and that he, Paul, ‘observes and guards the Law’. Paul agreed to do this.

      Was Paul being disingenuous?

  5. Btw Paul, the fact you keep repeating James had no reason to kill Paul shows you are getting desperate here, because i told you many times that that is not my argument, yet you insist to repeat that, and that shows weakness in argument when you constantly need to misrepresent and strawman my point. And you insist to ignore the part where the TEXT CONTRADICTS YOU, you say Paul carried out the rite so that should have ended it, then ANSWER WHY THE BOOK OF ACTS SAYS THAT THE PEOPLE STILL TRIED TO KILL HIM. If that was enough to prove his innocence, why did they still want to kill him?

    • as Gary puts it so concisely:

      you may have committed a basic logical fallacy:

      Jewish Christians in Jerusalem are jealous for Torah;

      the Jews that seized Paul were zealous for Torah;

      therefore, those who seized Paul were followers of James.

      • -James tells Paul about BELIEVING Jews who are zealous for the law

        -These Jews are concerned about Paul, they think he is forsaking the law

        -IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THIS, zealous Jews for the Law bring the concerns James just talked about.

        So there is no logical fallacy being committed, just a basic reading and following of the text which you refuse to do. There is no reason for me to believe that those Jews were NOT Jewish Christians, if you could show me strong reason they were not, then please bring it forth for me, because so far they perfectly match what James said, and they follow IMMEDIATELY FROM THE CONTEXT OF WHAT JAMES SAID.

        So what do you have to say otherwise?

  6. We can agree to disagree, but it is not an argument from silence as I demonstrated, but following the text and context of the passages and chapter.

    • You can’t argue that “nothing in the context proves that the persecutors of Paul WEREN’T Christians”. That’s also fallacious: it’s like saying, “Can you prove there AREN’T flying saucers?” Of course not, it’s impossible. However, the fact that when Paul sets about to convince them of his innocence, he seeks to demonstrate the resurrection of Jesus seems is a strong indication that they did not believe in Jesus as the Christ.

      This isn’t from the immediate context, but when Paul 8 years earlier spoke of Jews who tried to block the evangelization of gentiles – and that was what set the mob off in Acts 22:21-22 – he was clearly refering to non-Christian Jews who lived in Judea (1 Thess 2:14-16).

      I’m not reading your argument in any larger context, so I’m not sure why it’s worth proving that the Jews who persecuted Paul weren’t followers of Jesus; perhaps I’m missing some larger issue.

      I saw your question about, by the way, thanks, and will get back to you!