A Rejoinder to James (Part 1)
In response to my Report on the Seattle Debate, Dr. James R. White has published some responses. I here offer a rejoinder to his “Further Response to Shabir Ally (Part 1)”. I hope that James and I are not simply being contentious with all of these rebuttals and counter-rebuttals. Some students of comparative religion have urged me to answer the questions raised by Dr. White. I hope we will all benefit from the exchange of information and viewpoints. As is already quite clear, I do not know everything that there is to know about the subjects being discussed. I therefore welcome the opportunity to bounce my ideas out there and to learn from the responses I receive.
Definitions of ‘Crucifixion’
The term ‘crucifixion’ and its related forms have been used in a variety of contexts with varied meanings that need to be defined before we proceed. For our purposes here, ‘crucifixion’ has two meanings: (1) merely hanging a person on a cross; and (2) killing a person by hanging him on a cross.
Whichever of these two meanings is intended will have to be determined by context. We use the word in our writings sometimes with one meaning, and sometimes with the other meaning. This is unavoidable. Both James and I have done it. Even the Bible does it.
I have maintained that the classical interpreters of the Quran took the Quranic statement, ‘they did not crucify him’ in the first sense, whereas we should really take it in the second sense. Hence, they thought that the verse means, ‘they did not even hang him on a cross’; but we should really take the verse to mean ‘they did not kill him by hanging him on a cross’.
Which Interpretation is More Quranic?
All the Quranic uses of the verb salaba (to crucify) is in the second meaning identified above: to kill by means of impaling. In one instance (Quran 5:33), the verb salaba (to crucify) is juxtaposed with the verb qatala (to kill). The choice there is between killing a person and crucifying him. In that verse it is clear that whereas qatala (to kill) means ‘to kill by some unspecified means other than crucifixion’, salaba (to crucify) means ‘to kill by the specific means of crucifixion’. The juxtaposition of the two verbs in Quran 5:33 is similar to their juxtaposition in Quran 4:157. Hence a reasonable manner of translating the relevant portion of 4:157 is: “They neither killed him in general, nor did they kill him by the specific means of impalement on a cross.”
James wonders if the meaning should not conform to what the Jews had in mind when they boasted, as the verse says they did: “We killed the Messiah, Jesus Son of Mary” (Quran 4:157). Of course! This is precisely my point. They meant that they killed Jesus by the specific means of impalement. Hence the Quran is answering them on that score. “They did not crucify him,” means, “They did not kill him by impaling him on a cross.” As James noted, the Jews would never have meant by their boast to say that Jesus was “hung on a cross but not killed.” Again, this is precisely what I am arguing.
James has a further objection. If the Quran wanted to deny that Jesus died by crucifixion it seems odd for the Quran to say: “They neither killed him nor crucified him.” The answer to this objection becomes clear when we consider that the Quran is in continuous dialectic engagement with its readers. It answers possible objections as these may arise in the minds of its readers, even unstated objections. Let’s look at the bare verse for a moment and then suggest an amplification that will include some possible implicit objections:
That they said (in boast) "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary the Apostle of Allah"; whereas they killed him not nor crucified him but so it was made to appear to them. And those who differ therein are full of doubts with no (certain) knowledge but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not. (Quran 4:157)
It seems to me that the conversation between the Quran and its readers in this verse may be thought of along the following lines:
QURAN: That they said (in boast) "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary the Apostle of Allah"; whereas they killed him not …
READER: But didn’t they kill him on the cross?
QURAN: nor crucified him …
READER: But the Gospels say he died on the cross!
QURAN: but so it was made to appear to them. And those who differ therein are full of doubts with no (certain) knowledge but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not. (Quran 4:157)
It seems clear then, that the Quran answers the objections as they arise. This would explain why the Quran first states a general denial that those who were boasting in this manner killed Jesus; and followed it with a more specific denial that they crucified him. The first denial was of their explicit claim: “We have killed Jesus.” The second denial was of their implicit objection: “But we did crucify him.” This implicit objection means, of course, “We killed him by getting him crucified.” The second denial, then, means that they did not kill Jesus by crucifixion.
Is it Possible to Survive a Roman Crucifixion?
We can agree with James that the Romans were such good executioners that only a small percentage of persons would have survived their methods if we count on chance alone. James suggests “it would be fair to say that in 99.999% of the cases the Romans proved to be excellent executioners.” But even so, what are we saying? Something like ten in a million escaped with their lives due to sheer chance alone? Now if it is claimed about one of these persons that he was actually dead and came back to life should we not wonder if the rumours of his death were greatly exaggerated?
Even if we rely on chance alone, the fact that Jesus is believed to have been seen alive after the crucifixion may mean that he survived the attempt on his life, unless we have clear evidence that he died in the process. Rumours of his death have been greatly exaggerated, and were picked up by historians and ordinary folks. The rumour obviously took on a life of its own. Citing more persons who picked up the rumour is not the same as providing concrete evidence that Jesus was tested for signs of life prior to the presumption of his death.
But of course the odds in favour of victims surviving crucifixion increases if, as James writes, the victims are “purposefully taken down to try and save their lives at the request of a person of influence and power.” He adds that history records such an occurrence in the case of a few folks, most of whom died anyway. He maintains, however, that this was not the case with Jesus. Well, how do we know?
Pilate was a person of influence and power. Did he want Jesus dead? According to the Bible it was public knowledge that Pilate was determined to free Jesus, but the crowds threatened to report him to Caesar if he does. Pilate then reluctantly handed Jesus over to be crucified. Now, if there was a way to let Jesus escape with his life without leaving the Jewish opponents of Jesus with a case to present to Caesar this would accomplish, at least in part, what Pilate was trying to grant in the first place. This does not need to involve a conspiracy. If Pilate’s underlings just did the minimum that would be required of them no one specific person could receive blame; meanwhile, Jesus would have slipped through the system alive.
Pilate’s wife was another person of potential influence even if the extent of her power is not known. According to the Bible she was having nightmares on account of Jesus. Due to these nightmares she cautioned her husband against harming Jesus. By the way, where was the Governor’s wife on the night of Jesus’ entombment? We may suppose that she was with her husband. But then again, where was her husband?
The centurion who was apparently in charge of the crucifixion proceedings was another person of some influence, at least in declaring Jesus dead. He was already a professed believer in Jesus before making this declaration. After his profession of faith, what interest would he have in completing the act of killing Jesus? And, by the way, where was the centurion on the night of the entombment of Jesus?
To sum up, given the claim that Jesus appeared alive again in the flesh to his disciples, a sheer analysis of the Gospel records about the death of Jesus coupled with a little common sense leads us to suspect that his death was a gross misdiagnosis from a distance.
But having exercised our reason, we should not neglect our faith. The Muslim belief is that it was God’s will to save Jesus instead of letting him die at the hands of his enemies. The person of greatest power and influence in all of this was God himself. He has the power to subtly influence the minds of people to carry out his ends. And God could surely have given Jesus the endurance to live through the pain of being affixed to a cross. Hence, while it does not require a specific visible miracle for Jesus to have survived the crucifixion, Muslims will nevertheless affirm that it is by the grace of God that he was saved. And that grace must have worked in Jesus’ favour in many subtle ways. If James can have faith in the expertise of Roman executioners, Muslims have more reason to have faith in the chief executor of all affairs: God.
Are We Debating Only Because of Forty Arabic Words?
It is true that Muslims are Muslims due to the Quran, and that there would have been no Muslim-Christian debates without the Quran. It is also true that Muslims have become interested in denying that Jesus died by crucifixion due mainly to Quran 4:157. Yet I believe that James overstates the case by putting the blame on the words that constitute this verse.
If this verse did not exist, and if the Quran did not deny the crucifixion, and if the Quran asserted that Jesus died without specifying that he died by crucifixion, I would still debate James on whether or not Jesus really died at the time that the Gospels say that he did. For, even in that case, he could have survived the cross and died later. The question about his death is raised not only by the Quran, but by the claim that he was raised from the dead, and by the failure of the Gospels to present convincing evidence that Jesus was really dead to begin with.
Paul has compounded the problem. Paul made the resurrection of Jesus from the dead the crux of Christianity. For him, everything stands or falls on this one question: Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Paul, however, declared that Jesus died as a curse for us, which means that he is admitting that Jesus died under the curse of God. Now what reason do we have for believing that God would vindicate a person who died under his curse? None! Atheists have no reason to believe this because they start with the hypothesis that there would be no God to vindicate the accursed person (or to put him under a curse in the first place). Believers have no reason to suppose that God would want to vindicate a person who died under his curse. If anyone says that this accursed person actually came back to life after he was once dead, and he was thus vindicated by God, we should be prepared to examine the records of this extraordinary event.
In examining testimony we have to be cautious of that testimony which is in accord with the testifier’s vested interest, whereas we may more readily accept testimony that he offers in his own disfavour. Hence when Paul, a promoter of Jesus, affirms that Jesus died as a curse, we may accept that he must be admitting this simply because it is factual. But when he affirms that Jesus rose from the dead we may be cautious about his testimony, as he would have a vested interest in seeing Jesus vindicated from being under a curse. Hence the need arises for someone to prove that Jesus really rose from the dead. And from this it follows that it is necessary to prove that in the first place Jesus was really dead.
Of course if Jesus did not die an accursed death then there is no problem in believing in him. Hence the Quran, which causes Muslims to believe that Jesus did not die this accursed death, is not the problem, but the solution. If James wants Muslims to believe in Jesus, the best way is to encourage them to keep believing in the Quran. For, if a Muslim disregards the Quran, then, logically, he has no reason to believe in Jesus.
James must be prepared to prove, whether he is debating Muslims, former Muslims, or anyone else, that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that he was really dead, not simply appearing to be dead from a distance, before he ‘came back to life.’
Am I Dependent on Naturalistic Scholars?
James has chided me since the Biola debate, and here again, of being inconsistent in my treatment of the two faiths: Christianity and Islam. He finds that I approach Islam with the assumptions of faith: God exists, he reveals the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, etc. On the other hand, I seem to approach Christianity with the assumptions of atheistic naturalism: as if there is no God and no such thing as divine revelation. Hence he thinks that it must be on this basis alone that I reject the idea that Paul must have been a true disciple of Jesus Christ. That I of all persons should be guilty of such inconsistency is especially bad since I myself in former debates chided others for displaying a similar inconsistency.
But I believe that James has misunderstood the matter. Of course I do approach Islam with the eye of faith. But I also read materials which are highly critical of Islam and continuously make up my mind about what is true and false after carefully evaluating the evidence on all sides of a question as far as I come to know of them.
I also evaluate the claims of Christianity on the same basis. The fact that I believe that true revelation comes from God does not oblige me to believe that true revelation came also to Saint Paul. As I argued in the debate, Paul’s own writings show that he was in considerable dispute with the original followers of Jesus who can be presumed to be better informed about Jesus. I consistently apply the same standards when dealing with Islam. If someone who initially opposed the companions of the Prophet Muhammad suddenly claims that he understands the Prophet better than his companions do, I would tend to be skeptical of his claims.
Likewise, if I question the death and resurrection of Jesus this is not because of naturalistic assumptions. My belief is that God can raise someone from the dead if he wants to do so. This does not mean that he has raised a particular individual from the dead. If it is claimed about any specific individual, whether Jesus or someone else, I should ask how this fact was verified. Just because God can do it does not mean he did it.
My point against a Christian Apologist about what I perceived to be his inconsistency was along the following lines. I understood from his writings that Muhammad could not be a true prophet of God because the Quran which he presumably wrote contains teachings which were in existence prior to his claimed reception of such teachings as a revelation from God. I pointed out that this evaluation of the Prophet Muhammad is in fact based on the presumption of atheistic naturalism. The fact that such things were already known prior to the revelation does not preclude Muhammad from receiving his own education through a combination of such available knowledge and also (and especially) by direct tutelage through the angel of revelation. The only reason, therefore, that remains for rejecting the claim of divine revelation in this case is the presumption that God does not exist, and therefore there is no such thing as divine revelation.
I explained that the scholars who work with this presumption would apply it equally well against the Biblical revelation. Hence according to them, the Genesis creation and flood stories are a retelling of pre-biblical legends and myths, and cannot be believed in as divine revelation. It would be a mistake, therefore, for Christian Apologists to appeal to these scholars only in discounting the Islamic revelation. Their statements cut both ways, slicing away at Christianity as well.
James is correct in saying that it would be very wrong for me to commit the same fallacy of which I warned others. It is of course easy to fall into this error, because, as I have explained in the debate, I do naturally have a bias which I must constantly work to overcome. The fact that I am a Muslim will naturally colour my approach to the two faiths, especially in a debate setting where there is a struggle between two sides each trying to prove something. For this reason it will be helpful for James to point out where I do commit this error so that I could admit my mistake and be all the more on guard not to repeat such a gross misdemeanor.
I do not believe, however, that so far James has succeeded in showing that I have committed this error, though I am well aware of his numerous attempts. In the Biola debate, for example, it turned out that the opposite phenomenon was at work. James would not want me to apply the same critical standards I use to evaluate Islam’s hadiths now to evaluate the Gospels. Using these critical standards we grade hadiths and pronounce them as either authentic or inauthentic words of the Prophet Muhammad. Naturally, I would want to apply similar standards to the Gospels to determine if the words attributed to Jesus therein are really his. James did not seem to welcome this approach to the Gospels. Of course, if I do apply these strict standards, the Gospels would all fail the test in a wholesale fashion, for they would lack a continuous trace of reliable reporters from Jesus to the writer of the Gospels.
I leave aside these strict standards, however, in my attempt to give the Gospels a chance to speak to me as it speaks to Christians. But I have to apply at least some standards. The best I could rely on is the highly developed scholarship that builds upon centuries of previous scholarship. These are Christian Biblical scholars to whom I usually appeal. Some of them have reached some conclusions which can be used as the basis on which to question some aspects of the Christian faith. I do not believe that I am inconsistent in referring to these scholars.
James seems to be asking me to appeal to these same scholars when dealing with the Quran. I do not see the point. I refer to Biblical scholars for questions about the Bible, and to Quranic scholars for questions about the Quran. I feel that this is consistent behaviour.
It also seems that James wants me to apply Redaction Criticism to the Quran. How? Redaction Criticism, with reference to the Gospels, is a highly developed discipline that seeks to determine how each Gospel was shaped by the specific interests of its writer. The initial ground for this is undeniably established as a part of the Christian faith. The most conservative of Christians agree that each Gospel was written by a different person each with a specific interest. For example, Luke was said to be a doctor with an interest in the medical aspects of a story. After centuries of exploring the little ways in which the Gospels differ from each other it turns out that all the little ways add up to big differences. It was found that the writers did not only try to bring out harmless little bits of interesting material that reflect diverse personalities, but that they also modified the stories to reflect slightly different theologies. The work of Redaction Criticism continues to unravel the various ways in which they have done this.
I have tried to the best of my ability to familiarize myself with the arguments of those who apply this method of studying the Bible and also the arguments of those who demur. And I am convinced that the method is sound. Conservative scholars have tried their best to dismiss the method, but it is gradually taking hold even in conservative circles. In the debate itself I have cited many otherwise conservative scholars, such as Bruce Metzger, who use the method.
There are of course no four qurans on which to apply a similar method. This did not prevent scholars, mostly non-Muslims, from seeking to trace portions of the Quran to varied sources and to show differing emphases. Some scholars have tried to show a difference between the Meccan and Medinan verses. But the differences to which they point are in fact differences that are due to the application of the faith in two different situations. This difference is already recognized by Muslim scholars, and does not affect the faith of Muslims. I am not aware that anyone has succeeded in showing that Muslims altered the Quran to suit their theological interests, and that what we now have is such an altered text. Hence I remain consistent in trusting a reliable text as the Word of God and in questioning the reliability of a text which betrays the modifications which the human writers and scribes have wrought into them.
In short, when two things are similar in the case of the Bible and the Quran I have given them similar treatment. And when they are different I treat them differently. James has claimed, but not substantiated, that I have acted to the contrary.
When Did I Say That All of the New Testament Writers Were Dishonest?
James attributes to me “the assertion that Paul and all the NT writers were simply dishonest.” But I cannot recall ever making such an assertion. Surely this is a hasty conclusion James has arrived at as an incorrect inference from some of my actual statements.
It seems that James may have misunderstood how the modern Christian scholars whom I cite deal with discrepancies in the sacred sources. They do not accuse the authors of dishonesty; rather, they try to understand the nature of the writings, and the sources that were available to the writers.
It is common knowledge that there are various genres of writings. A modern bookstore would separate fiction from non-fiction. But sometimes the categories are not so neat. There is, for example, the genre of historical fiction. If we evaluate a historical fiction as if the author intended to write a purely non-fictional work, we would think that he or she dishonestly fudged the facts. But if we understand the work as it was intended, then we have to allow the author the usual literary license to modify non-essential details for the purpose of the entertainment value that fictive elements are expected to have.
The Gospels are not, of course, historical-fiction. Nor are they fiction. Nor are they simple history. Most scholars will classify the Gospels as theological treatises. Whatever history they contain is told not for the sake of history, but for the purpose of supporting a particular theological outlook. This genre at the time came with many literary licenses of which some of the Gospel writers made great use. When we discover the specific ways in which they used such latitude we do not accuse them of dishonesty.
Moreover, we try to understand the sources these writers used, and how the information derived from them may have been modified prior to reaching our authors. As far as scholars can tell, it seems that the teachings of Jesus at first circulated orally for many years. It is common experience that information changes as it passes from one mouth to another.
The information was also conveyed by preachers. It is also common experience that, when a preacher takes a saying of Jesus and works it over, a listener who is not already quite familiar with the saying may find it difficult to distinguish between the actual words of Jesus and the preacher’s exposition of those words. In this way, the words of Jesus are eventually remembered not by themselves, but as they have become subsumed into a wider discourse. When the whole discourse is represented as the saying of Jesus in a Gospel it is not that the writer is being dishonest. It is just that he is doing his honest best to recount for us what, to the best of his knowledge, the life and teachings of Jesus were like.
Furthermore, we try to understand how the individual authors themselves continued to do what their predecessors have done. They too are preachers, but now of the written word. If they modify the words slightly as their predecessors have done, this too is for the purpose of highlighting what they believe to be important, and for the purpose of bringing out what they believe to be the truth. As human beings, they naturally had slightly different ideas on some issues, and hence their writings show these differences. If they found a saying attributed to Jesus that seemed to be contrary to the truth as they understood it they tended to modify it. This was for the purpose of bringing out the truth that they believed Jesus must have meant to convey.
This positive evaluation of the work of the writers of the New Testament becomes strained, however, with regards to the writings which scholars deem to be pseudonymous. The question that arises in this case is about the legitimacy of writing in someone else’s name. Some scholars think that there is no harm in the fact that authors have done this, and that, according to the literary conventions at the time, it was legitimate to write in the name of one’s teacher. The purpose was not to defraud, but to practice humility, and to give credit to one’s teacher. In any case, the initial readers would have known at the time that the named author is long dead, and they would have understood the use of this literary device. Thus some scholars believe that Timothy and Titus wrote in the name of their great teacher: Paul. I see no reason to disagree with the positive evaluation reached by scholars in the case of these Deutero-Pauline epistles.
Some scholars think, however, that this is a sort of dishonesty, for it hides the true author and falsely ascribes the work to another, usually a person of greater authority. This negative assessment of pseudonymity no doubt is a reason for some believers to want to deny that such as phenomenon exists in the New Testament. But the case of 2nd Peter counts against such a denial, for the letter, as we have argued elsewhere, is recognized by Christian scholars both ancient and modern to have been written by someone else using Peter’s name long after his death. This letter refers to Paul’s writings as ‘Scripture’. But such a status for Paul’s writings was not recognized by Christians until long after the deaths of Peter and Paul. Also, many scholars interpret the letter as pacifying believers who were disappointed by the apparent failure of Jesus to return within the lifetime of his original disciples. Such a hope could only have been lost after the death of the Disciples, for the hope remained alive as long as they were alive. These and other factors point definitely to a post-Petrine authorship.
It seems to me that the negative judgment reached by some scholars regarding pseudonymity is difficult to deflect in the case of 2nd Peter. It is well known that there was a lasting tension between Peter and Paul, a tension which raises doubts about Paul’s credibility, since the credibility of Peter as one of the most important of Jesus’s Disciples was well established. It appears that this letter was calculated to show that Peter, after all, had reconciled with Paul.
But this admission is far from asserting that “all the NT writers were simply dishonest” as James thinks I have asserted.
The only other questionable case is that of Paul. As James has noted recently, I did say that Paul believed in what he was preaching. My belief that Paul was wrong in some of the things he taught, especially where these seem contrary to the teachings of Jesus, does not entail that I also think him dishonest. Incorrect doctrine is not an automatic indicator of insincerity. I have heard it said that Paul confessed his own dishonesty when he said: “But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory why am I still being condemned as a sinner?” (Romans 3:7 RSV). I regret that in my early years I repeated the same accusation. But I have since consulted some Bible commentaries which explain that Paul did not mean these to be his own words; he was only stating the position he sets out to refute in what he says later in the same chapter. I have taken it for granted that the great scholars I have consulted on this have correctly interpreted the passage. Since then I have refrained from using the passage in this way, and have cautioned other Muslims against a similar use.
On the other hand, Paul’s declaration that he is “all things to all men so that by any means possible he may win some to Christ” seems difficult to digest. This confession also makes it difficult to evaluate Acts 21. This chapter of Acts shows that when Paul came to Jerusalem James, the head of the Church there, advised him to undergo a sacrificial ritual in the temple to demonstrate his continued commitment to the Laws of the Old Testament. Knowing the contents of his letters, we might have expected him to say then and there that he no longer subscribes to these Laws, and that animal sacrifices have been done away with once and for all by the sacrificial death of Jesus. Instead, he engaged in the ritual, even paying the expenses of four other men to offer such sacrifices, just as James suggested.
Scholars are divided on how to evaluate this reported action. Here Paul appears to act contrary to his own letters, for the sake of appeasing those Jewish-Christian believers in the Mother Church who were skeptical of him. On the other hand, it is possible that Paul did not act in this way. In that case it would be said that the author of Acts wants to show that there was agreement among these great leaders of early Christians despite the deep-seated divisions that existed between them, as depicted in other sources. In that case Paul could not be charged with hypocrisy.
I must confess, however, that this is an area of scholarly dispute that I have not investigated fully to my satisfaction. For this reason my opinion on this question is liable to be swayed by the most recent scholarly materials I consult. Just prior to the debate I had been reading E. P. Sanders with whose scholarship on Paul I am highly impressed. Sanders would not charge Paul with dishonesty.
Muhammad, the Disciples of Jesus, and the Question of Literacy
If Paul was spreading incorrect teachings, why did the original disciples of Jesus not attempt to counteract his efforts by producing writings which would have explained the correct teachings? In my reply I stated that the original disciples such as Peter were Galilean fishermen: they probably were not literate. This would explain the lack of genuine writings stemming from them. Reflecting on the debate later, James laughs at this answer, since I maintain that Muhammad was illiterate. Muslims believe that although Muhammad was illiterate the contents of a book were inspired into his mind which he then dictated to his followers. Presumably the point of the comparison is that Peter and others could have employed secretaries to write down what they wanted to say.
Unlike Peter, however, Muhammad had good reasons for thinking it necessary to have his message preserved in its actual words both in the memories of his followers and in writing. First, the Quran would supplant the older revelations and stand on its own as the ultimate point of reference. Second, the Quran had to be preserved for posterity, as it would be supplanted by no further revelation. Third, the Quran does away with many of the Old Testament regulations and gives new ones in their place.
But the possibility of using secretaries is not the same as having the facility of freely composing unaided, on one’s own. This did not prove a hindrance to Muhammad due to the abundance of God’s grace on the final Prophet, and to the numerous followers he quickly obtained, many of whom memorized the Quran, and some of whom were able to preserve the text also in writing directly from the Prophet’s dictation.
We cannot, however, say the same for Peter and the other Disciples of Jesus. The fact is that we do not have many letters in the New Testament from these stalwarts of the faith. The letter attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, is thought now to be from one of James’s disciples. The letter attributed to Jude, possibly another brother of Jesus, is likewise thought to be of later origin. The Epistles of John are unlikely to be from one of the original Disciples. That leaves the letters of Peter about which we have already expressed the known scholarly positions. Hence the fact that Peter and others could have employed secretaries does not seem to have made them prolific writers.
If I may now expand the argument, I could add other reasons why the Disciples did not write much. First, they, like Jesus, may not have felt that their teaching needed to be conveyed in a written document to be added to the Old Testament. In Acts of the Apostles, chapter 15, it is evident that occasion arose for a new instruction to be generated for the sake of Gentile followers of Christ, and this was put in writing. But notice that the writing was sent along with spokespersons to convey the message orally. This seems to indicate that oral conveyance of a message ranked superior in their culture. Moreover, having written the brief instructions, James commented on the adequacy of this brevity with the reminder that the teachings of Moses are being read regularly in the Synagogues. Hence the original Disciples may not have felt the need to write down the teachings of Jesus. Paul, on the other hand, needed to spell out his doctrines in detail, for these were new and difficult to understand.
Second, the original disciples were probably not fully aware or fully certain about the extent of Paul’s variance from their own teachings. We have seen above that Paul was willing to be all things to all men. Even if we disregard the extreme example of this as would appear from Acts 21, thus crediting to Luke’s creativity the story of Paul sacrificing animals after Jesus’ crucifixion, we have no evidence that James and the other Disciples were fully informed of Paul’s teachings. Had they known, they just might have employed secretaries to counter such teachings. Reverend James Dunn thinks that The Epistle of James, written by one of James’ followers, must have been written intently as a counter to the views expressed by Paul in Romans and Galatians on the interplay between faith and works, and on the significance of the example of Abraham as a model of faithfulness.
Third, the piece of written instruction sent by James to the Gentiles, as described in Acts 15, would have served to counter some of Paul’s writings which speak of the Old Testament Kosher Food Laws as being cancelled.
Fourth, it is obvious from Paul’s writings that he would go into an area and gain converts; but later other missionaries visiting the area would convert the folks there to another interpretation of what it means to be a follower of Christ. In his letters he mostly refrains from naming his opponents, calling them derogatory names instead. But on occasion he names Jesus’ important Disciples Peter, James, and John, as those whose reputation he did not care for. Such Disciples, then, or their followers, seem to be the missionaries who have been countering Paul’s teachings and winning over his converts. But, as already noted, Paul’s religion ultimately suited the Gentiles best.
Fifth, we do not know the full extent of early Christian writings. We know of some gospels only by name, and that too only because they received negative mention in the writings of some Church Fathers. It is possible that there were writings produced by some of the early disciples but which are no longer extant. There were, for our purposes here, two streams of interpretation of the life and teachings of Jesus. The surviving documents we have in the New Testament are mainly from the Pauline side of the conflict.