THE REV. KNOW IT ALL’S “GUIDE TO READING THE BIBLE, THAT BIG BOOK ON THE COFFEE TABLE.” Part 7
It’s not meant to confuse you, but it’s very confusing….
CAN’T TELL YOUR PLAYERS WITHOUT A SCORE CARD
In reading the New Testament one might get the impression that Mary and Joseph were just the couple next door with a lot of kids and that Paul was having a feud with James, and the other apostles. For instance, what’s 1 Corinthians 9:1 all about? Paul writes “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord!”
Part of the problem is that Jesus, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (or as they would say: Yeshua, Yakob, Yose, Shimon, and Yehudah) were among the ten most popular names among Jews at the time of Christ, and Mary (or as they would say it Mariam or Miriam) was just about the most common name for girls. If you don’t understand who’s who, it is impossible to tell what’s actually going on in the New Testament.
It is important to understand that there were three (or least two) major players named James (Yakob) in the New Testament.
1) James, son of Zebedee (died 44 AD) was one of the Twelve appointed by Jesus. He was a son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of John the Evangelist, also one of the Twelve. He is also called James the Greater.
2) James, son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. He is often called James the Less and commonly known by that name in Church tradition.
3) James the brother of the Lord, first bishop of Jerusalem (died 62 AD) also called James the Just, James the Righteous and even James of Jerusalem. He was known for his piety and was said to have the knees of a camel since he spent so much time kneeling in prayer. (Scholars since the first centuries disputed whether or not James the Less and James the brother of the Lord are the same person. I am of the opinion that there are three James, not two. I may change my mind. Who knows?)
When we read a text such as Galatians 2:12-16 “Before certain men came from James, he (Peter) used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to (the orthodox Jewish party of) the circumcision.” Which James is Paul talking about? It certainly is not James the Greater. He was dead by this time, martyred by one of the innumerable Herod’s (That’s another issue. There was Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Phillip and a host of others, all of whom seem to marry their relatives.) It was James, the brother of the Lord, almost certainly. He was respected for his piety, remember? He led the Jerusalem Church, and seems to have been the leader of a faction in the early Church that thought one had to be an observant Jew before one could become a disciple of the Lord. Peter seems to have gone back and forth between the two factions until he had a vision (Acts 10:13) which showed him clearly that Paul was right and James was wrong.
Let’s clear up this issue of the Brothers of the Lord before we go any farther. People are always telling me that the Catholic Church is wrong and that Mary had other children than Jesus. It says so in the Bible! “Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren't all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matt. 13: 55.56). Look at the fine print. The Bible says that Jesus had brothers and sisters, not that Mary had other children. This gets complicated. Pay attention.
There were three Mary’s at the foot of the cross. (John 19:25) “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, His mother (Mary), and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, (or Clopas) and Mary Magdalene.” Remember, Mary was as common a name in the Holy Land as it is in an Irish girl’s school; Mary Margaret, Mary Catherine, Mary Bridget, etc., etc., etc..... Now read Matthew 27: 56 “Among (those at the cross) were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee's children. Now read Mark 15:40 “There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome.” It would seem clear that Mary the mother of James and Joses, was Mary the wife of Cleophas, (or Clopas) and not Mary Mother of the Lord.
There are three points of view. Mary and Joseph had other children than Jesus. This is not the traditional opinion, nor is it my opinion. If Mary had other children than Jesus she certainly would not have gone to live with St. John after the crucifixion. (John 19: 26,27) A mother of small children once told me that Jesus certainly had no younger siblings. If He had, He couldn’t have stayed behind in the temple. They would have snitched on Him!
The second opinion was held by Origen, Eusebius, St. Ambrose, St Gregory of Nyssa and St. Epiphanius, the “oracle of Palestine,” is that the brothers of the Lord were the children of Joseph by a former marriage. Joseph, after the death of his first wife, married Mary, a close relative, also from the family of David, to protect her vow of chastity. (This was in fact an ancient practice, especially among the Essenes.) This theory infuriates many of the pious, who prefer...
The third option: The so called Brothers of the Lord were close relatives. St. Theophylact (725AD, rather late in the game) was of the opinion that they were the children of Joseph by a levirate marriage, with the widow of his brother, Clopas or, as others have held, nephews of Joseph by his brother Clopas. After Clopas died Joseph adopted them, and so they were counted as the children of Joseph and Mary. This is a rather far fetched and late theory, but who knows? That’s the point! We can’t assume that “the Bible says....” With three James and at least three Marys a bunch of Simons and a busload of Herods, we may come to some perfectly obvious conclusions that are absolutely wrong. By the way, after James the Just was martyred, Simeon the son of Cleophas/Clopas became the bishop of Jerusalem. The bishop of Jerusalem was always a relative of Jesus until sometime in the second century. This will be important in our next exciting installment.
So, Principle #8, MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE READING ABOUT BEFORE YOU DECIDE WHO YOU ARE READING ABOUT.
Next Week: IS IT TRUE THAT THE EPISTLES ARE THE WIVES OF THE APOSTLES?