"In Acts...Paul is denied the title of Apostle." (Hengel & Schwemer, Paul between Damascus and Antioch (John Knox Press, 1997) at 321.)

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Review of A Polite Bribe (2013)

Slander of James, the Bishop of Jerusalem

This 1 hour 23 minute documentary-style movie is excellent as cinema. The author / writer is never identified. The movie producer is Robert Orlando. We long ago reviewed his 2015 article in the Huffington Post on the same topic at this link. Nothing in that 2015 article could prepare one to think a movie like this had appeared directed with such serious accusations against James, while glorifying Paul.

Whoever wrote this movie provides us an unjustified slander of James, the first bishop of Jerusalem. Supposedly, James, the Bishop of Jerusalem — whom Paul calls an apostle (Gal. 1:18-19) “betrayed” Paul by letting a mob rush Paul which led to Paul being first guarded but then arrested by Roman officers at the Temple. The accusation by the mob was that Paul was responsible for his companion Trophimus’ breach of the Court of the Men at the Temple. These mob members blamed Paul for “bringing him [i.e., Trophimus] into the temple area” uncircumcised (Acts 21:29). Then the documentary clearly says an alleged knowing inaction by James and other Christian leaders at Jerusalem to stop the mob was a “betrayal” — by James in particular — that led supposedly to Paul’s death at Nero’s hands or in prison. Hence, James is portrayed as the primarily guilty party for Paul’s supposed execution or death arising from this appeal to Caesar by not protecting Paul from the mob at Jerusalem. This "betrayal" is multiple times depicted as the cause of Paul's supposed death. James is thus depicted as Paul’s de facto Judas.

This accusation against James is completely false and thus constitutes a slander of James. It accuses him essentially of intending to "stop" Paul by setting in motion events he foresaw would lead to Paul's supposed death, and then did nothing to protect Paul. Hence James is depicted as a murderer by proxy.

This movie’s conclusion about James is set up at various points but finally is clear in the last few minutes at the 1 hour 19 minute mark:

49:45 "what made it worse is no one came to his defense; he was betrayed by Christians and in those he had confided" (Narrator).

51:35 [Paul said he was betrayed by “super apostles”] "Why did he call them super apostles? This is the same language he used previously to refer to James, John and Peter." (Narrator)

1:11:00 "The people in Jerusalem left Paul on his own, and did not protect him" (Cassandra Moss, of Notre Dame.)

1:12:00 "We cannot be sure how involved James was in the plot at the temple." (Narrator).

1:19:12 "The reality is his end came as a simple act of betrayal, a lone visionary who had gone too far." (Narrator)

1:19:24 "What is undeniable is [Paul’s] conflict with James and the Jerusalem church led to his imprisonment and death." (Narrator)

There are numerous factual errors in this work, most importantly:

  • Error No. 1. It is false to say or infer that the action by the Jewish mob grabbing Paul — Trophimus’ companion — was supposedly not spontaneous but allegedly likely coordinated by James’ aids with his knowledge with the intent Paul be “stopped" in his Gentile mission, and thus conclude James was responsible for Paul’s arrest and later supposed death by execution or imprisonment at Rome's hands in this legal matter. Here are excerpts that try to make out this erroneous and false claim:

1:13:22-28: "It is not the case like people spontaneously jumping out of their chairs, and then decide to attack someone. There are always individuals coordinating those efforts. It is not just like a match to dry leaves. You can see these things coming. It is unlikely that [James] had no idea. He could have warned Paul, it seems. It seems unlikely that he couldn't have known." (Cassandra Moss of Notre Dame.)

1:13:52 “The Jerusalem church under James wanted Paul taken care of, so this experiment of a Gentile mission would be stopped." (Ludemann).

1:12:53-56. “A leader doesn't have to do things if you know others will do it. [James] doesn't have to get his hands dirty.” (Ludemann).

  • Truth as to Error No. 1. The truth is that the accusation over Trophimus involved the most serious breach of Jewish law — an uncircumcised Gentile in the Court of the Men at the Temple. This is the kind of crime that would naturally involve spontaneous reaction from any and all Jews in defense of the Temple before ever coming to James’ attention. Trophimus walked right through a wall gate at the inner Temple where the sign in Greek, Latin and Hebrew said it was a death penalty for any uncircumcised Gentile to pass. This was an act similar to the Temple's defilement which had previously required in 168 BC rededication of the Temple to purge the defilement before the Temple could be used again.1 If something like this happened at a Muslim shrine at Mecca, no one even as close as 50 feet away could stop a mob in time before police step in. The statements by ‘experts’ to the contrary in James’ situation were ludicrous and clearly defamatory.
  • Moreover, Luke says it was "Jews from Asia...[who] stirred up all the people and laid hands on him." (Acts 21:27.) Paul in fact likewise says in the first hearing before Festus that it was "Jews from Asia" who grabbed him before the Roman guards stepped in. (Acts 24:18.) This puts the blame for the mob action on non-Christians from Turkey (Asia Minor), not Christian Jews from Jerusalem.
  • Thus, there was no means that James could have exercised to prevent the mob action nor is there evidence James was using familiar proxies to violently pursue Paul. 
  • Error No. 2. It was completely erroneous to assume as fact in the quotes above that Paul in this legal matter was either killed by Rome, or let die in prison, and hence James was responsible for Paul’s death by deliberate betrayal, i.e., knowing inaction.
  • Truth that Dispells Error #2. Eusebius and Jerome both record that Paul was acquitted by Nero in this trial.2 The earliest source from pre-70AD -- then part of the Christian canon -- likewise also says Paul after defending himself in court, went to the extremity of the kingdom, i.e. Spain, before dying naturally of old age. And a later source agrees Paul was released, went to Spain and says Paul then next went to Jerusalem. Then in a report centuries later, it was claimed after the acquittal that Paul years later supposedly returned to Rome a second time, and offended Nero who suspected Paul of some personal offence who for that reason had Paul executed. Thus multiple sources disprove this movie's point that James' alleged inaction foreseeably led to either Paul's execution or death in prison awaiting trial on this charge raised in Acts 21. Let's now look at the references.
  • The first proof on this point comes from the earliest contemporaneous account of Paul’s last days. This was written by Clement, bishop of Rome, probably shortly before 70 AD, as he mentions that sacrifices were continuing at the Temple. (1 Clem. Cor. 17:20.) Clement says that after Paul defended himself before rulers, Paul reached the "extremity of the West" of the realm, i.e., Spain, and he then "departed at length out of the world." (1 Clem. Cor.  5:5-7.) This means that Paul was not sentenced to death by Nero but was released, went to Spain, and died naturally "at length."  Clement's letter from Rome was part of the earliest Christian accepted canon for centuries, but then omitted from 340AD forward. Thus Paul had to have been not only earlier released by Nero, but also was doing missionary trips freely to Spain where he died a natural death. This is what the earliest Christians must have known as the facts because it was in fact in the canon reading lists.
  • Likewise, the Muratorian Canon scrap from the 2d century records a trip by Paul to Spain never mentioned in Acts; it says "Paul who from the city (of Rome) proceeded to Spain." Link. Instead, Luke records once Paul arrived at Rome to stand trial, he was allowed to live in a house for two years "at his own expense" thus far. (Acts 28:30-31.) This was a house arrest obviously to wait for the witnesses to arrive from Jerusalem. Paul was not going to be permitted to leave Rome until the charges were heard. Thus, a trip to Spain implies Paul was acquitted. Interestingly, this trip to Spain which obviously was after the close of Acts and which only could follow an acquittal remains a strong tradition in Spain. See link.  It also is recorded in early non-canonical works including the Acts of Peter, and Acts of Xanthippe. See link.
  • Next, Chrysostum in 398 AD says Paul was set at liberty at Rome, then "went into Spain," (Homily 10), and then "came to Jerusalem, and made a visit to Jewish believers there, and then he came to Rome where he was put to death by Nero." (Nathaniel Lardner, Andrew Kippis, The Works of Nathaniel Lardner(1815) Vol. 2 at 607.) Chrysostum explains the various options of stories of why Nero executed Paul on that return visit. None of them involve the charges raised in Acts 21. The first option is Nero did this because Paul converted a "favorite concubine." Then a different story was that Nero killed Paul because Paul "saluted a butler, or cup-bearer, and a concubine of Nero." And a third story was that Paul converted a "cup-bearer of Nero." Finally a fourth story was that Nero killed Paul because Paul found favor with "one of the friends of the emperor." Id., at 619. 
  • This much later execution by Nero, if true (which is questionable), thus had nothing to do with Paul's first trial at Rome, i.e., any guilt for Trophimus' violation of the temple. The most likely truth was Clement's earliest account that Paul left Rome, and went to Spain where he died a natural death.  Since that natural death or any other accounts of Paul's death had nothing to do with the sacrilege at Jerusalem which was the charge before Nero on the house arrest at Rome over Trophimus’ violation which this movie is addressing, there is thus no basis to believe Nero in this first trial ordered Paul executed. Or even if we trust obvious pious frauds centuries later that make Paul a martyr, they still all agree on the acquittal by Nero over the sacrilege charge whereupon Paul leaves for Spain.  They simply try to weave accounts how Paul was killed by Nero after a trip to Spain, but always assert different charges than sacrilege of the Jerusalem temple.
  • The fact that the first trial at Rome over the temple offence unquestionably ended in an acquittal makes the accusation against James as somehow responsible for Paul’s death by Rome's execution in this matter completely false and clear slander.
  • Theories that ignore mention of these acquittal proofs, and rely upon silly conflation to prove Paul died in the sacrilege charge case, are discussed in the NOTE at end. These theories conflate / link together Paul's stress of the fear of death awaiting a trial in Ephesus (not at Rome) as supposedly talking about the Nero trial over sacrilege, and then they believe one can supposedly predict or infer Paul knows he will die in that Nero trial. Fear of death does not mean death happened in the trial to which Paul referred.

 

What is particularly galling about such slander against James whether deliberate or by an excusable gap in research, is that James likely had engaged Luke’s aid to get Paul’s acquittal. It was in the entire Church’s interest that Paul get acquitted. This is because Nero at Rome would be exposed in Paul's trial to Christians for the first time. If we Christians are a sect within Judaism, we Christians are lawful to operate under Judaism’s approved legality in the Roman empire. If we are a new sect that is disruptive of a lawful sect’s temple, we are likely illegal, and at risk that all Christianity would be banned.3 Thus, the Jerusalem Church (James and company) as a whole had every interest to enlist Luke to inform Theophilus of facts that could explain Paul’s excuse was a factual alibi — Paul was in a ritual bath at the time of Trophimus’ defilement of the Temple (Acts 21:28-29; 24:18). Luke's account would thereby simultaneously dispel any suggestion that circumcision as required in Ezekiel 44:9 for a Gentile to enter the Temple proper had been done away with by Christianity. It was the written paraphrase of Ezekiel's prohibition posted by Rome itself at the Temple that Trophimus violated which created the furor by the mob.

It is further galling because James cooperated with the Gentile mission after the Holy Spirit in Acts 10 mandated expanding missions to include Gentiles. James blocked an impediment to the Gentile mission which others sought to impose. Incidentally, this Gentile mission by the 12 began before Paul interacted with Christian leaders by Paul's own admission that he stayed away from them for three years after his Damascus experience. (Gal. 5.) Furthermore, the Gentile mission was so important that the Holy Spirit decided Peter (not anyone else including a post-Damascus Paul) was the apostle to the Gentiles. (See Peter's speech in Acts 15.)

What impediment did James block? At the time, some claimed Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved. Acts 15:1-2. Luke depicts James as head of the conference in Acts 15 with the twelve present, and they gathered to address that issue. James' decision impliedly rejected that circumcision of a Gentile was necessary for “salvation” -- the issue posed in Acts 15:1-2 for the Jerusalem conference. James instead says four laws are necessary for Gentiles (not mentioning circumcision), and the rest of the Law applicable to the Gentiles would be learned as they hear the Bible read at weekly Sabbath readings. This meant the Ezekiel requirement of circumcision to pass through the middle wall of the Temple remained obligatory on Gentiles and would be taught. But circumcision was not a condition to be a Christian. This also meant James read literally the Law that only requires circumcision on "sons of Israel" (Lev 12:1-3) absent a desire of a Gentile to enter the Temple. Thus, Luke’s purpose in Acts is to let Rome know we Christians have no doctrine that excuses compliance that Gentiles must be circumcised if they wish to enter the Temple Court of Men. We simply do not insist Gentiles must be circumcised for “salvation.” Luke presents Christianity in Acts as simply a sect within Judaism -- that was Luke's primary aim, not necessarily to extoll Paul. See footnote 3.

Hence, this movie can be appreciated as art -- thanks to Mr. Orlando, but for accuracy in its primary conclusion, not so much.


1. Antiochus Epiphanes (168 B.C.), who was king at Antioch, forbade the keeping of the laws of Moses. He defiled the temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing swine to idols and commanded the books of the law to be burned.

2. Eusebius, The Church History (transl. Paul L. Maier) (Kregel, 1999) 2:22 on page 80. This dates to early 300s. Under heading Paul Acquitted, we read: "After defending himself [successfully], the apostle is said to have set out again on the ministry of preaching and, coming a second time to the same city, found fulfilment in martyrdom."

Another translation is:

"Paul after pleading his case is said to have been sent again on the ministry of preaching, and after a second visit to the city to have finished his life with martyrdom." The word "visit" signifies that this second time Paul was no longer a  prisoner.

Jerome concurs -- See this link which includes: "It ought to be said that at the first defence, the power of Nero having not yet been confirmed, nor his wickedness broken forth to such a degree as the histories relate concerning him, Paul was dismissed by Nero, that the gospel of Christ might be preached also in the West.St. Jerome: De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men), Chap. 5..

3. John W. Mauck, Esq., Paul on Trial: The Book of Acts as a Defense of Christianity (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001) at 4 (“Luke-Acts was written as a legal defense of Paul as he awaited trial before Nero and was intended to bring the gospel to Theophilus even as he gathered facts concerning the charges against Paul.”) See, C.A. Heumann, “Dissertatio de Theophilo cui Lucas Historiam Sacram Inscripsit,” Bibliotheca historico-philologico-theologica, classis IV (Bremen, 1720) at 483-505 (arguing that Luke wrote to the Roman magistrate Theophilus to defend against false accusations against Christianity). See also Joshua Yoder, Representatives of Roman Rule: Roman Provincial Governors in Luke-Acts (Walter de Gruyter, 2014) at 6 (Heumann is the traditional view that “Theophilus was a pagan magistrate to whom Luke addressed his book as an apologia....”)

NOTES 

  • What evidence can there be that this first trial instead ended in death?  It appears that some scholars do not recognise the proper dating of the pastoral epistles.  They link pastorals to the time at Rome when Paul was waiting for trial with Nero. They rely on passages where Paul is describing himself as being on trial, fearing death, and all those in Asia [western Turkey] abandoned him,  giving an impression that Paul is actually writing from prison.  Link. Paul describes his enemy as the lion – a term usually associated with Jews, but some theorize he meant Nero was a lion.  But that is completely unfounded. Thus, without any basis, some have stated this is Paul describing what actually happened in Rome in the first trial. Rather than living two years at his own expense in a home, as Luke asserts, Paul is supposedly really in prison.  They think Luke is in error.  Then the same commentators are still believing Paul was killed in the first trial, but they haven't correlated this belief against any of the accounts  of Paul's end which always is after a release and after he's gone to Spain.
  • The truth is the scholars have overlooked that Paul is saying all those in Asia abandoned him, and now he is threatened by an enemy whom he calls the lion.  We know from Revelation chapter 2 that obviously Paul was put on trial by the church at Ephesus, the capital city of Asia, a province in western Turkey.  Luke in Acts 19 recounts about a synagogue at Ephesus that was for three months listening to Paul and many were coming over to him.  Then, for a reason Luke does not explain, this synagogue expels Paul.  That's where Revelation chapter two fills in the gap.  Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for having put on trial someone who said he was an apostle but is not, but was found to be a liar.  The same church was commended for having rejected the false prophet who told them it was permissible to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul does so twice in first Corinthians 8 and 10, explaining an idol is nothing, and what we eat or do not eat does not commend us to God.  
  • Hence, from Paul's own words, we know the location of this "trial" is Asia, because he's upset that all those in Asia have abandoned him.  If Paul was standing trial in Rome, why would it matter that one small province of Asia in the Empire has abandoned him? Also, Paul says his enemy is the lion, which has to mean Jews --  where the tribe of Judah is depicted by an emblem of a lion.  This fits the Acts 19 synagogue that expels him. Thus Paul's words do not fit any trial at Rome arising out of the events in Acts 21. Instead, those words perfectly fit the Acts 19 expulsion at Ephesus with Revelation chapter 2 that depicts an episode against someone who claims to be an apostle of Jesus Christ and was not, and who also said it was okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Furthermore, Paul's fear of death in the epistle talking about being on trial, abandoned by all those brothers of Asia, does not prove Paul actually died as a result of that trial.