If we look at the New Testament carefully, we notice that there is not one, but two opposing gospels. One is James’ (Jacob) gospel of the circumcision and the other is Paul’s the gospel to the gentiles. Preachers and teachers try desperately to harmonise the two. They try to make them into one, but they fail miserably. Nowadays if is almost exclusively Paul’s gospel taught, by being silent and or explaining away the gospel in the Gospels and in James, Jude and John. So for many it seems the New Testament (NT) is one gospel only.
The Gospel of James
You could call James’ gospel the gospel of Jesus, but we do not really know what Jesus actually taught. All we know what people wrote about what Jesus was teaching, as we do not have anything from Jesus himself! Well, we do not really know who wrote the Gospels, or the other writings in the NT. For the sake of simplicity, lets just take that all the authors were the ones traditionally ascribed. Even the so call pseudegraphical, that is forged writings of Paul and Peter etc.
It is clear from the NT and the early church fathers, also from Josephus, that James was the head of the Jerusalem church. (Was this James the biological brother of Jesus? Who knows.) Nevertheless, James was at least a leading figure in early Christianity.
(See: Gal. 1:19, Gal. 2:9, Gal. 2:12, Act. 12:17, Act. 15:13, Act 21:18, 1 Cor. 15:7, Jas. 1:1, Jude 1:1, Wiki: Josephus on Jesus )
Can we call the Jerusalem church, that is James’ mob, Christian? Not really, as Christianity started at Antioch (Act. 11:26). Lets not argue over the name, as we could never get a consensus about who, or what group is Christian.
So, what was the gospel of James? Galatians 2: 12 describe the men from James as “from the circumcision”. This was their defining characteristic. From this and other parts of the Letter to the Galatians, Letter of James, Letters of John and Letter of Jude and the Gospels, we can safely say, that James taught that you have to be circumcised and follow the Jewish Law (Torah) to be a Christian.
Lets start with the Gospels. In the Gospels, we do not find any indication that Jesus ever wanted to preach his message to non Jews. On the contrary, Jesus specifically expressed that he came for “only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. (Mat. 15:24) He was very clear about this, when he sent out The Twelve, that they should not go to the gentiles and Samaritan, but only to the Israelite. (Mat. 10:5) One can argue and I do, that Mat. 7:6 ‘Do not give to the dogs and pigs what is holy’, also refers to, not to preach the gospel to non Jews. We can see that from Mat. 15:26 where Jesus referred to non Jews as dogs.
Jesus also clearly, unmistakably stated that just paying lips service and doing stuff in his name is not enough. He will send them away “who practice of lawlessness”. (Mat. 7:23) He also said, that unless they keep the Law better than the Experts of the Law and the Pharisees. They will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mat. 5:20) Jesus did not reprimand the Pharisees for keeping the law. On the contrary, he admonished them for neglecting the more important part of it. (Mat 23:23, Luk. 11:42) Jesus also said, that to love him is to keep his commandment. (Joh. 14:15) Now probably the most well known “commandment” of Jesus is Love your neighbour as yourself. When they asked Jesus:
Matt 22:36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? (KJV)
Matt 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (KJV)
Matt 22:38 This is the first and great commandment. (KJV)
Matt 22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (KJV)
Matt 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (KJV)
Note, what Jesus said here, if you fulfill these two commandments fulfill the whole Old Testament!
In the light of the above, we can look at the 1st Epistle of John.
Verses like these:
1John 3:4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (KJV)
1John 3:6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. (KJV)
1John 3:8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (KJV)
John is saying here, that sin is breaking the law, that is the Torah! A Christian does not sin, therefor a Christian keeps the Law. This agrees with Jesus’ teaching, to keep the Law.
Looking at the Epistle of James. We come to the same conclusion. James picks up the second of the great commandment:
Jas 2:8 If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: (KJV)
Then he points out:
Jas 2:9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. (KJV)
Jas 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (KJV)
Then James points out that faith without work, that is believing in Jesus without keeping the Law, is dead:
Jas 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. (KJV)
Jas 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. (KJV)
Jas 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (KJV)
Then James directly refute Paul on Abraham’s faith:
Jas 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? (KJV)
Jas 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? (KJV)
Jas 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (KJV)
Jas 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (KJV)
Then James continues with Rahab:
Jas 2:25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? (KJV)
Jas 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (KJV)
It is clear, that James does not think that Jesus taught anything about the end of the law and salvation by faith alone. James taught faith plus work of the Law will get you to heaven. Not faith alone! That is the gospel James and his men went around preaching.
The Gospel of Paul
When it comes to Paul’s gospel, I should not need to write about it. Just point to what the majority of Christian evangelical churches teach. That is salvation by faith alone.
One could protests, this is not Paul’s gospel, but “The Gospel”. Well, Paul himself calls it his own:
Rom 2:16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. (KJV)
Of course we can find many versions of the salvation by faith gospel. But the common factor is, that you do not have to be circumcised and keep the Law to be a Christian. On the contrary, if you try to get saved by following the Law. You are out of salvation full stop. At least according to Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:
Gal 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (KJV)
Gal 5:2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. (KJV)
Gal 5:3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. (KJV)
Gal 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. (KJV)
Well, Paul lays it on the line, for a good reason. He writes this letter, because his church is in danger to go to the other side. That is James’ side. That is why the Letter to the Galatians is good source to see, what was Paul teaching, compare to James. In fact one should read the Galatians and the Letter of James, side by side to get an even clearer picture.
I could quote Paul from Romans and his other (not disputed) letters, to show that Paul was teaching, proclaiming salvation by faith alone gospel. But I think nobody disputes that.
One could say that Paul was teaching the same thing as James and the others. One could quote the same Letter to the Galatians to show that James, John and Peter agreed with Paul’s gospel. (Gal. 2:9) But do not forget, that the letter was written by Paul and he want to convince the Galatians that his gospel is the genuine one from the start and James and others changed, not him. So Paul tells the Galatians in the letter, that he received his gospel from Jesus directly. He did not learn it from men. And that the apostles accepted his gospel first and then later they changed their minds about it.
Also, one can appeal to the book of Acts, so called Jerusalem council, where the apostles agreed that the gentiles do not have to be circumcised and keeping the Law. (Acts 15:1-29) Again, we need to remember, who wrote the book of Acts. Well, if we can believe what the book of Acts says, Luke. OK, it is questionable that Luke the writer of Acts, was the same Luke who wrote the Gospel according to Luke. But who knows, who wrote any of the books of Bible for sure. The main thing is, that the writer of the book of Acts, was a companion of Paul. (I personally do not believe that the book of Acts was written by one person, because of the internal inconsistencies.) So, what would a companion of Paul writes? Of course what Paul said. After all Luke was not present at the council.
The same goes for 2. Peter. While the writer of 2. Peter states that what ever Paul writes it’s OK, only some twist them out, because they are hard to understand. But now we know that 2. Peter is a forgery, or to use the euphemism of pseudepigrapha. It was not written by Peter and written much later, when the church tried to harmonise the two gospels.