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.