Tag Archives: Church History

A Brief Biography of Jesus’ Brother (Part Four)

The Death of James, According to Tradition

Hegesippus, a Jew who was converted to Christ in the second century, said that James lived a life of strict adherence to the Law of Moses, and was “held in the highest veneration by the Jews”*[1] earning him the nicknamed “James the Just.”*[2] Eusebius, quoting him, said that James’ knees were like those of a camel because he spent so much time on them in prayer.*[3]  He also said that James undertook the “government of the Church [universal] along with the apostles”*[4]  It appears that some outlandish legends grew up around James by the third and fourth centuries, with some writers suggesting that James dressed like the Jewish high priest, and was the only one allowed in the Holy of Holies in the temple.* [5]

Both religious and secular history confirms that James died as a martyr.  According to Josephus, the same Annas who tried Jesus*[6] had a son named Annas who served as the high priest after the death of Festus.  Annas was a strict Sadducee, and was “very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews.”  When he gained the high priesthood, he decided he had the opportunity to exercise his authority (Festus’ replacement, Albinus, had not yet arrived).  He “assembled the Sanhedrin of the judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others.  And when he [Annas] had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the Law, he delivered them to be stoned.”  Many of the Jews were very upset, and contacted Agrippa for help, and appealed to Albinus for aid to stop the dictatorial acts of lawlessness.  As a result of Annas’ actions, Albinus promised to “bring him to punishment for what he had done,” and removed him from the office of high priest after just three months.*[7]

Eusebius, quoting Hegesippus, gives a slightly different story:

James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Savior to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James.  He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath.  He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people. Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek, ‘Bulwark of the people’ and ‘Justice,’ in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.

Now some of the seven sects, which existed among the people and which have been mentioned by me in the Memoirs, asked him, ‘What is the gate of Jesus?’ and he replied that he was the Savior.  On account of these words some believed that Jesus is the Christ. But the sects mentioned above did not believe either in a resurrection or in one’s coming to give to every man according to his works. But as many as believed did so on account of James.

Therefore when many even of the rulers believed, there was a commotion among the Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, who said that there was danger that the whole people would be looking for Jesus as the Christ. Coming therefore in a body to James they said, ‘We entreat you, restrain the people; for they are gone astray in regard to Jesus, as if he were the Christ. We entreat you to persuade all that have come to the feast of the Passover concerning Jesus; for we all have confidence in you. For we bear you witness, as do all the people, that you are just, and do not respect persons.

Therefore, persuade the multitude not to be led astray concerning Jesus. For the whole people, and all of us also, have confidence in you. Stand therefore upon the pinnacle of the temple, that from that high position you may be clearly seen, and that your words may be readily heard by all the people. For all the tribes, with the Gentiles also, are come together on account of the Passover.’  The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and said: ‘You just one, in whom we ought all to have confidence, forasmuch as the people are led astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.’

And he answered with a loud voice, ‘Why do you ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sits in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.’

And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another, ‘We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.’  And they cried out, saying, ‘Oh! oh! the just man is also in error.’ And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah, ‘Let us take away the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.’[8]

So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, ‘Let us stone James the Just.’ And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, ‘I entreat you, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And while they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of the Rechabites, who are mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet, cried out, saying, ‘Stop. What are you doing? The just one prays for you.’

And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom. And they buried him on the spot, by the temple, and his monument still remains by the temple. He became a true witness, both to Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieged them.*[9]

So ends the life of a man who was regarded by some ancient writers as one of the fourteen apostles.*[10]

[1] *Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2:23.  See McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia, Vol. 4, page 755.

[2] *Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.1.2

[3] *Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.23.6

[4] *McClintock and Strong, Cyclopedia.

[5] *Epiphanius, who claims Eusebius and Clement as evidence, stated that James wore the petalon, which some argue is the ephod of the high priest, and others state is the golden plate which says JHVH, worn on his turban.  See his Haeres. 29:4, 78:13.  Hegesippius (as quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.23.6) said that he always wore linen clothing (like the high priests) which permitted him access into the “holy place.”

[6] *John 18:12-23.

[7] *Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1.

[8] *Isaiah 3:10, LXX.

[9] *Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, 23:4-18

[10] *Apostolic Constitutions 6.14, says “On whose account also we, who are now assembled in one place, — Peter and Andrew; James and John, sons of Zebedee; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus who is surnamed Thaddaeus; and Simon the Canaanite, and Matthias, who instead of Judas was numbered with us; and James the brother of the Lord and bishop of Jerusalem, and Paul the teacher of the Gentiles, the chosen vessel, having all met together, have written to you this Catholic doctrine for the confirmation of you, to whom the oversight of the universal Church is committed…” See also Eusebius’ commentary on Isaiah which states explicitly his belief that James was one of the “official” apostles.

The Non-Apostle Apostles: Barnabas (Part 5)

The biblical record about Barnabas has been covered in the previous four posts.  In today’s post, we present to you what tradition says happened to Barnabas after he and Paul separated.

Tradition

Tertullian, who lived from AD 155 to 240, stated that Barnabas was the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.[1] Hippolytus of Rome (AD 170-235), as well as Clement of Alexandria, states that Barnabas was one of the seventy disciples[2] sent out by Jesus Christ in Luke 10:1-24.[3] The Clementine Recognitions (written approximately AD 200-400) identify Barnabas as Matthias, and even has him preaching about Jesus in Rome before the crucifixion.[4]

There is also a writing called “The Epistle of Barnabas,” which Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215) believed was written by Barnabas. This writing was held in such high regard in some circles that it was regarded as part of the inspired word of God by Clement of Alexandria and Origen, both of whom quoted it as authoritative. It was also included in Codex Sinaiticus (a 4th-Century New Testament collection) and the “Jerusalem Codex” (11th-century), but the early church historian Eusebius objected to its inspiration. The Epistle refers to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem as a past event, meaning it cannot be dated any earlier than AD 70.[5] Miracles in the church—including inspiration—ended by the time Jerusalem was destroyed.[6] Therefore, the “Epistle of Barnabas” cannot be inspired by God and deserves no place in the Bible. It is also doubtful that it was written by Barnabas at all.[7]

According to early church tradition, Barnabas was in Cyprus, teaching boldly in a synagogue when Jews from Syria and Salamis fell on him, dragged him out of the synagogue, tortured him, and then stoned him to death. After this, John Mark buried him and went to tell Paul and Peter.[8] This was said to take place in AD 61. Another writing, called the “Acts of Barnabas,” claims that his death came when a noose was placed around his neck and he was dragged by it until his tormentors set fire to him.[9]

The History of the Cyprus Church states that Barnabas was buried with a copy of Matthew’s gospel.[10]

About 400 years after the death of Barnabas, there was a writing circulating with the name “The Gospel of Barnabas,” which is only known only because it was condemned as heresy[11] (no copies of it are known to exist today). Barnabas’ name was later blasphemed by Muslims who produced a writing called “The Gospel of Barnabas” which said Jesus wasn’t the Son of God, but just a prophet who wasn’t really crucified, and mentioned Mohammad by name.[12]

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] Conybeare and Howson argue for this interpretation as well.

[2] Hippolytus lists seventy men by name, claiming they are the seventy disciples sent by the Lord. However, his list includes at least one Gentile (Luke), as well as another man who was not converted to Christ until after Paul’s conversion (Philemon). As such, while the list proves to be interesting, it simply is not accurate.

[3] The seventy were “sent forth,” which is the verb form of “apostle.” If Barnabas were truly among that number, then that would add yet another way in which he was an apostle.

[4] The Clementine Recognitions is a writing which claims to be from Clement of Rome (died approximately AD 101), describing how Clement (who is also identified in the story as the cousin of Caesar) saved Barnabas from an angry mob, and how Barnabas later introduced him to Peter in Caesarea. It is an interesting story, but it contains several statements that contradict the biblical record, such as Zacchaeus being a disciple of Peter and Peter being required by James (brother of the Lord) to send transcripts of all of his sermons and teachings back to Jerusalem for James to review. Most scholars date it no earlier than AD 240, over a hundred years after Clement of Rome died.

[5] Ed Stevens, in his unpublished thesis, “Redating the Epistle of Barnabas,” argues that the destruction referenced in this epistle is the one accomplished by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and thus gives a pre-AD 70 date to this uninspired letter.

[6] For a more detailed explanation, along with the biblical proofs for this statement, see the appendix in this author’s book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.

[7] The general consensus of modern scholars and historians is that the “Epistle of Barnabas” was written—at the very earliest—near the end of the first century, at least 20 years after the New Testament was completed.

[8] Paul mentions Mark being with him in Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24; Peter mentions Mark’s presence in 1 Peter 5:13.

[9] As one can see by these two contradictory reports of the death of Barnabas, just because something is “traditionally believed,” does not mean it is necessarily true. Another example is the death of Peter. Tradition holds that he was crucified upside-down, but the writing that records that tradition also says that a talking cross that was as tall as the clouds came out of Jesus’ tomb. It makes for a nice story, and there may be truth to the manner of Peter’s death, but it is impossible to state it with any certainty.

[10] Some modern guidebooks say that this copy of Matthew’s gospel was written in Barnabas’ own handwriting. They do not say, however, how that conclusion was reached. See “The Search for the Twelve Apostles” by William Steuart McBirnie, Ph.D., page 261.

[11] The Decretum Gelasianum lists this “Gospel of Barnabas” as apocryphal and condemns it.

[12] This work is often referenced by Muslims as evidence of their beliefs and teachings about Jesus. The only manuscripts known to exist are in Spanish and Italian, and neither one is older than the 1500s. In it, Barnabas is one of the twelve apostles, clearly contradicting the Scripture.