St. James, Circumcision, and Sacred Tradition


I’ve found an inconsistency that I’m not sure how to resolve. I think I’m misunderstanding something, but I’m not entirely sure what. Hoping someone can clear things up for me:

-The Apostles were given authority directly from Jesus, which included both what they taught and what they wrote, “by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians)
-This “word of mouth” forms the basis of Sacred Tradition
-St. James was an Apostle, and thus this should apply to him as well.
-St. James was also, for a time, a member of (or quite possibly the leader of) the circumcision party. (Galatians 2, Acts 15).

If James’s word of mouth teachings are part of Sacred Tradition due to his being an Apostle (most likely the same guy as James the son of Alphaeus, from what I understand), how is it that he was allowed to teach that circumcision was necessary for Gentile converts to Christianity and the one must follow the entire Jewish law to be Christian? Obviously he changed his mind after hearing Peter, Paul, and Barnabas’s testimonies, but that doesn’t change the fact that his “word of mouth” teachings, for a time, did not reflect true Catholic teachings. How do I square this with the concept of Sacred Tradition?


James the Apostle was head of the church in Jerusalem. He called a council in AD50 …

have a read of what that was about

because this council was convened to deal with the issues of gentiles becoming christian. at that time, christians were a sect of the jewish religion.


It is talked about in the Book of Acts of the Apostles.


acts 15…


“The circumcision party” or “those of the circumcision”—the exact wording varies from one translation to another—simply means Jewish Christians. For thirty years or so following Pentecost, the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians were, to a large extent, separate communities. One group was based mainly in Jerusalem, where they saw themselves as a group or sect within Judaism, alongside the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and others, while the other group’s earliest and largest community was at Antioch, then the capital of Syria.

When Peter escaped from prison and fled Jerusalem (Acts 12:17), James the Just, “the brother of the Lord” (Gal. 1:18) evidently took his place as the leader of the Jerusalem church. This James may or may not have been the same person as the apostle known as James the Less. Academics in the NT Studies field still haven’t reached agreement on that point.


In my opinion what belongs to Sacred Tradition are teachings that came from Christ and handed on through the Apostles by word of mouth. Apparently, the question of whether the Gentile converts needed to be circumcised or not was something that our Lord did not specifically address; otherwise there would be no dispute about it. Since Christ did not address the issue, the Apostles were free to make their own opinion. Neither those who favor circumcision nor those who were against it were teaching something that Christ actually taught. Therefore, none of those teachings (for or against) belongs to Sacred Tradition. However, during the Council of Jerusalem (ca. A.D. 49) the Church, under the leadership of St. Peter, deliberated to see which opinion aligns more with the teachings of Christ. The decision of the Council, which was not to require circumcision of the new Gentile converts, became a part of Sacred Tradition, until it was written down by St. Luke in the Acts, in which case it became part of Holy Scripture. If you want to see more of my thoughts on Sacred Tradition, please visit my website - thetheologycorner - and just add a dot com (Sorry, I am not allowed to put links in the post, but this is only for additional reference.)


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