Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
September 8th, 2014 by Joel Watts

is Peter quoting James, James quoting Peter or are both quoting Proverbs…or…

The Church of St. Sophia in Ohrid (1345-1346),...

The Church of St. Sophia in Ohrid (1345-1346), The Repentence of King David (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t spend a lot of time in James since it includes very little about people going to hell, but noticed this today:

πρὸ πάντων τὴν εἰς ἑαυτοὺς ἀγάπην ἐκτενῆ ἔχοντες, ὅτι ἀγάπη καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν – 1 Peter 4.8

γινωσκέτω ὅτι ὁ ἐπιστρέψας ἁμαρτωλὸν ἐκ πλάνης ὁδοῦ αὐτοῦ σώσει ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐκ θανάτου καὶ καλύψει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν. – James 5.20

Achtemeier has this…

The most puzzling part of the verse consists in the final four words (ἀγάπη καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν). While the notion that love covers sin is common in the Bible and early Christian literature, the closeness of this formulation to the Hebrew of Prov 10:12b* and its almost identical form in Jas 5:20* point to the proverbial status of this phrase, a status probably antedating both uses in the NT.1

Using a certain resource, I found a connection to several Clementine letters.

Blessed were we, dearly beloved, if we should be doing the commandments of God in concord of love, to the end that our sins may through love be forgiven us – 1 Clement 50.5

Now I do not think that I have given any mean counsel respecting continence, and whosoever performeth it shall not repent thereof, but shall save both himself and me his counsellor. For it is no mean reward to convert a wandering and perishing soul, that it may be saved. – 2 Clement 15.1

Almsgiving therefore is a good thing, even as repentance from sin. Fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving than both. And love covereth a multitude of sins, but prayer out of a good conscience delivereth from death. Blessed is every man that is found full of these. For almsgiving lifteth off the burden of sin – 2 Clement 16.4

and for my friendly gnostic fellow,

All those who anoint themselves with it (.i.e, Truth) take pleasure in it. While those who are anointed are present, | those nearby also profit (from the fragrance). If those anointed with ointment withdraw from them and leave, then those not anointed, who merely stand nearby, still | remain in their bad odor. The Samaritan gave nothing but | wine and oil to the wounded man. It is nothing other than the ointment. It healed the wounds, for “love covers a multitude of sins.”2

In reviewing the ancient instances of this quote – even those making use of James/1 Peter, it looks like it is a recognized proverb (pardon the expression). We shouldn’t think Peter and James are at odds with one another. While James has the reputation of supporting “works righteousness,” I believe they are both saying the same thing. Both are about rescuing the less-than-sober/self-controlled Christian from sins. One calls this love, one calls this repentance. Same thing. Even the Gnostic version alludes to the recapturing of Truth.

So, maybe the early Church didn’t have too divergent a theology at the beginning? And, maybe that theology included the notion that we can aid in (co-responsible for) one another’s journey?

  1. Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter: a Commentary on First Peter (ed. Eldon Jay Epp; Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 295.
  2. Wesley W. Isenberg, “The Gospel of Philip (II, 3),” in The Nag Hammadi Library in English (ed. James M. Robinson; 4th rev. ed.; Leiden; New York: E. J. Brill, 1996), 155.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

9 Responses to “is Peter quoting James, James quoting Peter or are both quoting Proverbs…or…”
  1. Not surprisingly purported N.T. authors cite the O.T. demonstrating that these were not the “ignorant, and illiterate” as the ones which the fellas that the “old system” portray them. They knew the O.T. and that was considered knowing theology on those days.
    Now, the issue of these verse is the word “cover” itself… Is “cover” a salvific or redemptive act in and of itself, or is this an allusion to the fact that (as implied by Paul in 1 Cor 13) love sees beyond the other person, the object of our love’s faults?
    Although I have an early and, then later, Lutheran outlook upon the book of James, (for full disclosure) this is not one of the verses to which I object; I do think that James is quoting whatever he learned from Jewish tradition and so was Peter. I would like, however, to ask a Jew of those days if the “love” they say here is not the love drawn from God, who, “even while we were sinners, loved us, thus proving His love towards us” (Paul), is or is not akin to saying that “love covers a multitude of sins”, in reference to God’s love. If it is, then such love is indeed salfivic, but it is not from us
    This is a thoughtful question: “…maybe that theology included the notion that we can aid in (co-responsible for) one another’s journey?” I do think that if we are not co-responsible for one another’s journey, meaning that we’re all “in it” alone, we lost the very meaning of the teachings of Christ.

  2. I’m still stuck on the first phrase of this post: “I don’t spend a lot of time in James since it includes very little about people going to hell….” That’s gold right there. 😉

  3. Minor point, his G of Philip translation concerns Spiritual Love, wine and perfume. Not so sure Truth covers a multitude of sins!
    “Spiritual love is wine and fragrance. All those who anoint themselves with it take pleasure in it….. . It healed the wounds, for “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 P 4:8).”

    Also, 1 Peter 4:7 But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer:

    I hate to say it, but the author of 1 Peter seems to have been wrong about at least one thing!

    • I dunno, Gary… I think wine can bring the truth! 😉

      Besides, wine is a metaphor for truth… also, if 1 Peter was written before the destruction of the Temple (the end of the World) or written as if it was supposed to be, he was correct. We miss the “end of all things” was meant to signify the passing away of the old (Judaism) and the inception of the new (/a/CHristianity).

  4. I bow to your infinite wisdom.

  5. In moderation, of course.

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