The Confrontation of James and Paul

Jesus Returns to Jerusalem              

The sojourn in Ephesus helped Jesus regain a little of his health. But that was not to be for long. No sooner had Jesus left Jerusalem for Turkey, the squabbling between some of the senior disciples for leadership of the movement began.

Soon after the crucifixion of Jesus and his appearance to some of his disciples, there were several claims as to who Jesus first appeared. These claims were being made merely to establish leadership of the movement. Three significant characters in Jesus’ life – James, Peter and Mary Magdalene – claimed either directly or indirectly that they were the first to see the post crucifixion Jesus. Even Paul who had never seen Jesus during his lifetime nor heard any of his sermons claimed to have seen the post crucifixion Jesus. According to Acts (of the Apostles) Jesus appears to Paul on the road to Damascus.

According to one of Paul’s own letters in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus made an after-crucifixion appearance to him as a vision after which he was momentarily blinded. After this incident Paul proclaimed himself as a servant of Jesus and an apostle who was set apart for the gospel of God. Paul’s claim that the resurrected Jesus appeared to him was to support his assertion that he received the Gospel not from any man but from Jesus himself. He also claimed that his apostleship was by divine appointment. He used these claims to grant himself independence from the movement in Jerusalem. He also claims that on reaching Damascus he was cured of his blindness.

Paul strongly opposed Jewish claims of lineal and theological superiority. He also maintained an authoritative style of writing even while addressing the “super apostles” in spite of the fact that all of them had known Jesus during his lifetime and had stronger claims to apostleship than Paul.

The basis for the difference between Paul and the super-apostles was the conviction of the early followers of Jesus that they should fulfill their Jewish inheritance. Although they followed practices that were typical to their new belief, they lived as Jews, took part in Jewish worship and observed ancient Jewish laws handed down from the time of Moses. As such circumcision and the laws of Moses were inviolable (1).

Some scholars were convinced that the conflict between Paul and Peter was long drawn out and it was deep seated because of their divergent doctrinal views. Paul even publicly rebuked the apostles because of their use of the Old Testament in a manner that was never intended (2). Paul was not in agreement with the ancient concepts of ritual purity (3).

James and Paul were theological adversaries. The conflict was basically between the form of Jewish Christianity that was represented by James and the Gentile or Hellenistic Christians represented by Paul. Robert Eisenman posits that James and the Christian Jews that followed him were sidelined by Paul and the Gentile Christians who were his followers. Both Eisenman and Ferdinand Christian Baur speculated that there was a split between Paul and the Peter-James led Jewish Church (4).

While the movement of Paul began to grow, the movement in Jerusalem under the leadership of James began to decline and even suffered persecution (5). It is possible that Jesus did not stay in Ephesus for long. Perhaps two factors were responsible for his return to the Jerusalem area. One must have been his failing health. Although Jesus may not have died on the cross, it is apparent that he suffered extensive physical injuries that did not fully heal and his health began to slowly fail and if anyone could give him the care and medical attention that he needed it would be the Essenes at Qumran. And if he was going to die, Jesus would most certainly have desired to die in Jerusalem where his roots were. Besides this, he was getting disturbing news from Jerusalem about the infighting among his apostles and about Paul trying to usurp the leadership of the movement and even openly challenging his closest disciples.

In spite of his failing health Jesus returned Jerusalem, with Mary Magdalene and young Juda to cast his lot with his brother James.


(1) Monet, Fr. Jacques, S.J. Great Moments in Catholic History,

(2) Deffinbaugh, Bob. (1995 – 2012). Peter’s Capitulation and Paul’s Correction (Galatians 2:11-21). Retrieved 2012, from

(3) Why did Peter and Paul disagree? (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from

(4) Baigent, Michael. (2000.). The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Retrieved 2011, from

(5) Council of Jerusalem. (2012). Retrieved 2012, from