In part 1 of this two-part series, called “Did God Intend For A Person to Keep the Whole Law?” we examined the first two erroneous assumptions that the question, “Can people today keep the whole law?” is based. So now, in the second part of this study, we want to examine the last erroneous assumption upon which this question is based.
FALSE ASSUMPTION #3: IF YOU CANNOT KEEP ONE POINT, THEN YOU CANNOT KEEP ANY OF IT
This false assumption is derived from a misreading of James 2:10, and is used to try and argue that unless one keeps the whole law, you end up disobeying God anyways, so you might as well not even try. James writes,
For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
On the surface, this seems to back up their point, but let’s look at this statement a bit closer by applying it to Jesus Himself and seeing if it works with Him, and then looking at James and finally by putting it back into context.
First of all, let’s apply this statement to Jesus Himself. Did Jesus obey the laws of the Levitical priesthood? Is there evidence in the Gospels that Jesus learned how to cut up the sacrifices and then offered them on the altar for people? No, there’s isn’t. Is there any evidence that Jesus kept a farm, and he kept the edges of his fields for the poor, widows or orphans? No, there isn’t. Is there any evidence that Jesus kept the laws regarding menstruating women? No, there isn’t since He’s a man, not a woman. My point is that if we apply this Christian argument to Jesus Himself, as stated in their understanding of James 2:10, then it must be concluded that Jesus was a sinner, since He Himself did not keep the commandments mentioned. However, the Bible says that Jesus was without sin, so apparently, then one does not need to obey all the commandments, for one to be seen as “blameless” in their obedience to the law. One only needs to keep those laws and commandments that apply to them, just as Jesus kept all the laws that applied to Him as a single Orthodox Jewish man living in the land of Israel during the Second Temple period of the first century, C.E..
Some people might say, “Yeah, but Jesus was God, so He didn’t have to keep them all,” but as a Jewish man, if He did not keep them, then He would have been guilty of sin, and even as God, if He didn’t keep them He would be a hypocrite, like the scribes and Pharisees He accuses, since He would have taught one thing and did another.
But let’s look at a person like you and me; let’s examine the author of this epistle, the person of James. What was he like? According to the early 4th century, C.E., Church historian, Eusebius, in his book Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: Complete and Unabridged (trans. by C.F. Cruse), he quotes Hegesippus’s description of James the Just. Hegesippus was a Christian chronicler of the early Church who lived between 110 – April 7, 180 A.D. This would place him about 80-150 years after the time of Christ, or about 10-80 years after the time of the Apostle John. In his writings, Eusebius quotes him as saying:
(4) James, the brother of the Lord, who, as there were many of this name, was surnamed the Just by all, from the days of the Lord until now, received the government of the church with the apostles. This apostle was consecrated from his mother’s womb. (5) He drank neither wine nor formented liquors, and abstained from animal food. A razor never came upon his head, he never anointed with oil, and never used a [public] bath. (6) He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary [Temple]. He never wore woolen, but linen garments. He was in the habit of entering the Temple alone and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people; so that his knees became as hard as camel’s, in consequence of his habitual application and kneeling before God. (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 59-60)
From this we learn that James, the brother of the Lord and the author of the New Testament book of James, remained a Nazarite from the time of his birth until his death, much like the prophet Samuel or John the Baptist. Even though Samson started off as a Nazarite, he shared his secret to his great strength with Delilah, who then used that knowledge to betray him into the hands of the Philistines by having someone else cut his hair, thereby losing his great strength, so he could be easily captured.
But unlike Samson, James remained a Nazarite to his death. From this account about James in Eusebius’ history, we discover that there were many of the Jewish leaders who had come to faith in Yeshua [Jesus]. As a result, those among the scribes and Pharisees who were not believers came to James and asked him to do the following:
(10) We entreat thee, restrain the people, who are led astray after Jesus, as if he were the Christ. We entreat thee to persuade all that are coming to the feast of the Passover rightly concerning Jesus; for we all have confidence in thee. For we and all the people bear thee testimony that thou art just, and thou respectest not persons.
(11) Persuade therefore the people not to be led astray by Jesus, for we and all the people have great confidence in thee. Stand therefore upon a wing of the temple, that thou mayest be conspicuous on high, and thy words may be easily heard by all people; for all the tribes have come together on account of the Passover, with some of the Gentiles also. (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 60)
One may wonder why the Scribes and Pharisees would come to James with this request; however, in the time up to the resurrection, James did not believe that Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) was the Messiah. What is inferred from the New Testament is that James did not come to faith in Yeshua (Jesus), until Yeshua (Jesus) personally appeared to James after the crucifixion and resurrection, much like Yeshua [Jesus] had done to Sha’ul Paulus (Paul).
In I Corinthians 15, we learn that after Yeshua (Jesus) rose bodily from the dead, He was seen by “Cephas (Peter), then of the twelve” (15:5), and then the passage continues:
After that, He was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, He was seen by James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen by me also, as one born out of due time. (I Corinthians 15:6-8)
So it may be that the scribes and Pharisees were not aware of this event, and James’ transformation and new faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Promised Messiah. One must wonder why James did not say something? It may be that he saw this as opportunity to tell all those who were there that Yeshua [Jesus] was, in fact, the one true Promised Messiah. But once they got James in place on the wing of the Temple, they went down to where the people were gathered, and cried out to James:
(12) The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees, therefore, placed James upon a wing of the Temple, and cried out to him, “O thou just man, whom we ought all to believe, since the people are led astray after Jesus that was crucified, declare to us what is the door to Jesus that was crucified? (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 60)
Taking advantage of this situation, James responds to their question by stating the following:
Why do you ask me respecting Jesus the Son of Man? He is now sitting in the heavens, on the right hand of great Power, and is about to come on the clouds of heaven. (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 60)
In addition to this confession, he also proclaimed that “Jesus Christ was the Son of God, our Savior and Lord” (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 59). Obviously, the scribes and Pharisees were so infuriated in that James had proclaimed his faith in Jesus, rather than denouncing him, that they went to the wing of the Temple and threw him down. And then those down below began to stone him, since he didn’t die from the fall immediately. But James turns around, kneels down and prays,
I entreat thee, O Lord God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 61)
When he didn’t die right away from the stoning, one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, grabbed a club and beat him to death. (Book 2, chapter 23, p. 61)
But in looking at how he lived and died, James kept to his faith in the Torah, as well as his faith in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus); in fact, he went ever further than what was required in the Torah for a Nazarite to do, so he would remain blameless in his obedience to God. And interestingly, even in his death, he said the same words as Jesus, His Lord and brother: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Now considering what we now know about James, is it likely that he believed since he could not do every thing taught in the Law that he believed that obedience to the Law was a waste of time? Obviously not. Instead, from his extreme Nazarite lifestyle, his death, and what he wrote in his epistle, there’s reason to question Christianity’s interpretation of James 2:10. So let’s put this line back into the context of the passage.
5. Listen my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?
6. Yet you dishonored that poor man. Didn’t the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?
7. Don’t they blaspheme the noble name that you bear?
8. If you really carry out the royal law [James’ view of God’s law] prescribed in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself” [Leviticus 19:18], you are doing well.
9. But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
10. For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.
11. For He who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. So if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you are a lawbreaker.
12. Speak and act as those who will be judged by the law of freedom [another description of God’s law by James].
13. For judgment is without mercy to the one who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:5-13)
Now when we look at the line in context with the rest of the passage, we can see verse 10 is not given to try to dissuade readers from obeying the law (Heb. Torah), as many Christians use this verse, but James is using it for the exact opposite purpose. He is using it to try and encourage more, fuller obedience to the commandments, not less, which would be in keeping with what we know about James and his ultra-Orthodox Jewish Nazarite lifestyle and beliefs.
Consequently, then, when Christians use this verse to try and dissuade people away from obeying the commandments, they are clearly taking this verse out of context and misrepresenting it, to make it say what they want it to say, rather than using it as James intended it to say within his epistle.
Conclusion of Part 2
Consequently, then, Christians need to quit asking this question since it is based on these three erroneous assumptions. It is time that we are taught and learn to put the Scriptures back into their appropriate contexts, and to view things in the New Testament from the light and perspective of what is taught in the Old Testament, the order in which gave and taught the Scriptures, rather than the traditional order used by the church in teaching the Scriptures backwards, New Testament and then the Old Testament.