In the prelude to this, Paul vs. Barnabas we see that the split between Paul vs. Barabbas hides a much deeper rift which had developed, separating the church in Damascus/Rome/etc. under Paul against the church in Jerusalem under James.
This split was precipitated at the Council of Jerusalem, and that is where the center of Christiandom was at the time, where John Mark had returned to, presumably to be with the Christian movement there. The story does make reference to rumors spreading back to Jerusalem of Paul's ministry and his teachings in contrary to the church at Jerusalem. As such in it's fullness this story represents an exodus of Paul not only out of Jerusalem the city, but out of the church of Jerusalem under James, itself.
1 Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. 3 So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”Acts 15:1-5
In the above, it should be obvious that the people who are complaining about this are the people who believe it is proper to keep God's laws. This is to say – as said – anyone who holds to the teachings of the Pharisees. This refers, de facto, to the church of Jerusalem under Peter and James. Further, the importance of this accusation is that (although it is severely downplayed) Paul is being accused of heresy against the teachings of Jesus, as proclaimed by the church in Jerusalem under Peter and James.
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.Matthew 23:1-3
Here and in many other places (ex. Matthew 19:16-18, John 14:21-24, asf.) Jesus clearly teaches his disciples and followers to keep the torah, even in spite of the fact that some of the leaders were hypocrites or did not practice what they preached. What becomes clear from this is that any one of Jesus' apostles or disciples would fit the bill of a “…Pharisee who stood up and said,” according to Acts 15:1-5. It would certainly apply to Peter (the Rock of the Church) who followed Jesus for his entire ministry, and to James, the brother of Jesus who knew him all his life and who led the church for more than 30 years after Jesus' death.
Second to this note especially that the concessions were made for the Gentile believers only (Acts 15:19-20), and only in such that they kept the laws of Noah (i.e. do not eat or drink blood, etc.) and not apply (as Paul later proclaimed) to the Jewish believers. In short this is the archetypical moment in which Paul and the Church split over the importance of keeping the Law.
Barnabas, John Mark and the original church in Jerusalem (under James) are not mentioned again in the book of Acts. The remainder of the book is written from the standpoint that Paul is carrying on the tradition of the church. Thus we identify the Council at Jerusalem as the place where the split occurred and, and the disagreement over the validity of the torah as a whole (and thus Israel's role as a light to the nations) as the central defining reasons why the split occurred.
The majority of the remainder of the New Testament can be considered as apologetic discourse by Paul. Especially Romans and Hebrews, which are read as justifications why Paul is right and indicting the Chruch under James as heretical. By Galatians we see that the church under James both won and lost this battle; They won in the sense that Paul would not be allowed to preach to the Jewish churches, they lost because as it turns out the Jews would ultimately reject Jesus as a Messiah, the church under James would die out, the church under Paul would experience incredible growth, and the church under Paul would have free reign in saying anything they wanted about the church of Jerusalem, eventually branding them heretical.
Please refer to The problem with Paul for a list of prooftexts, loosely covering the theology of Paul, primarily set out in Romans and Hebrews. The remainder of this document will discuss the rift and how it played out in general terms primarily considering the book of James.
Besides what we know of the history of the church in Jerusalem as stated above, we also know a great deal about the man who led it and what he believed. This is, after all, the main focus of this article.
The gospel of James is not a letter, it is a Gospel, and referred to as such by all major Church fathers including Martin Luther, who lovingly referred to it as the “straw gospel” (due to is promotion of keeping the torah), and wanted it ripped out of the bible canon on those grounds. Thankfully he lost that battle, or we would not have the gospel of James in the New Testament Canon, as buried as it is despite it's importance considering the history of 1st century Christianity.
James begins with an acknowledgement that he is speaking to the Jewish churches at best; and more likely to all Jews in a form of outreach. This is incredible considering the “great commission” given in the form of Paul, to preach to the Gentiles. In contrast James appears to be uninterested in dealing with Gentiles, only addressing the Jews.
The concept of testing one's faith via trials and endurance is a reference to the Jewish concept of the yezter hara. James 1:14 explains this as “..one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it;”. James says of the people who reject their yetzer hara by resisting these temptations, “12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” This passage is in stark contrast to Pauline theology which states that one may only be blessed and receive the crown of life by the acceptance and worship of Jesus alone.
It can not be underestimated that James defines the meaning of faith here, not as faith in Jesus as the Messiah, but in God's ability to provide wisdom and assist those who are experiencing difficulty in refusing their yetzer hara (evil inclination). This resonates throughout the entire book; not only is he saying that one must have works besides faith, his entire concept of the type of faith which is required, is opposed to Paul's teaching of faith in Jesus.
This section implores one to keep the “perfect law, the law of liberty” and James implores the jews not to “forget what they were like”. He then outlines several key laws of the Torah; in v. 26 the major commandment against Lashon Hara is given (it is said that if one breaks this commandment alone they will lose their share in the world to come). In v. 27 revisits the major commandments of charity and social justice, for which Israel was previously rebuked for ignoring by Isaiah:
15 When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.Isaiah 1:15-17
Here James reminds the Jews that it is not enough to keep the torah without charity and love. But in stark contrast to the words of Paul, the Jews were well aware of this for hundreds of years before Jesus. James makes this very clear.
Discusses the Jewish notions of modesty and the ayin hara which brings ruin upon those who flaunt wealth and prestige, and how to avoid giving the ayin hara to those who do so despite these warnings. Very Jewish.
This passage is a stunning attack on the Pauline notion that one can not be justified under the law. Romans 4:3, Romans 11, the entire book of Hebrews, etc. typify this idea.
James 2:21 in particular, is considered as a direct response to, and attack on Hebrews 11:4;
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s.Hebrews 11:4
Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?James 2:21
Further, James responds to the mention of Rahab in Hebrews subsequent to the above;
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.Hebrews 11:31
Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?James 2:25
James was written chronologically after Hebrews and was placed directly after Hebrews in the New Testament canon. James responds to the first and last example from Hebrews 11, so this section is easily taken as a comprehensive response to Hebrews, and similar earlier statements in Romans and other books.
In light of the above, the statements in James 3 can be taken as a general response to Paul's claim that the Jerusalem church is heretical, which would be counted as Lashon Hara (evil speech). The final section of James 3 exhorts it's followers to teach and respond not in a like manner, but by example– to be good people and keep the torah and therefore teach by example and not by arguing. This is how the passage is understood to refer to two kinds of wisdom, unstated meaning the wisdom expressed by Paul (i.e. all talk) and the wisdom expressed by James (teaching by example of good works).
In continuance and context with teaching by example and not by sophistry, James 4 can be taken as a general indictment of Paul's use of his freedom as a Gentile as expressed in 1 Corinthians 9. Paul's general statement is that the ends justify the means (v. 24) and that it is okay because it is for the purpose of spreading the Gospel. In contrast, James 4 advises against this; “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. … Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
James 3 and 4 are really very similar to each other, with v. 11-17 echoing the advisory against Lashon Hara and against overconfidence in one's own mind (i.e. the “mammon” in “one cannot serve both God and Mammon”).
Rememberance of various Jewish teachings; in particular v.19-20 discussing the merits of those who (for example) serve a Talmid Chacham (Torah Scholar) or who do countermissionary work.