Read today’s article, where you, in part, again defend Paul. Obviously, I have to come to read him very differently and would like to run something by you. Can you give me your thoughts on the following words of Paul, namely in Galatians 4:21-26 (and a bit beyond, in Galatians 5-1)?
“21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children WHO ARE TO BE SLAVES; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. “
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5-1)
Here Paul, although supposedly speaking figuratively, plainly says that the covenant on Mount Sinai produced slaves (even though the opposite actually happened there – Jews were freed from slavery there, becoming servants of G-d). According to Paul, Jews who are still bound by Torah and the Mosaic covenant are not the spiritual children, but the children of the flesh and are born not of Sarah, but of Hagar. Christians (primarily his Gentile audience), however, are Sarah’s true children, who are free. Following Torah as given on Mount Sinai, according to Paul, is a yoke of slavery from which Christ came to set humanity free (Galatians 5-1).
Would love to hear what you thought of the above. May be the billions of Christians over the many centuries didn’t misread Paul after all but received much of their view of Judaism from him?
-from a private email discussion
There’s a lot more to this conversation. For a little background, the person asking the above-quoted questions is a Jewish friend of mine who believes that Paul was anti-Torah and anti-Judaism. He very gently but firmly is questioning my faith and our exchange, from my point of view, has reached something of an impasse. Not being a theologian or a historian, especially within the context of Messianic Judaism, I don’t always have all the convenient answers at my fingertips.
A “normative” (i.e. not Messianic) Jewish person has a wide variety of resources to draw from, such as Jews for Judaism, in questioning the validity of the “Christian texts,” while in response, all I’ve got is me.
For obvious reasons (obvious to my regular readership), I can’t really rely on traditional, Evangelical Christian apologetics, since I’m often a critic of Evangelical Christian theology.
To add a bit of dimension, where I “stalled” in the conversation, my friend questioned whether one could look at Paul’s letters in the same fashion as the writings of Moses. Moses received direct revelation from God while Paul was writing letters. Can his letters be elevated to the point of scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit? Moses knew he was recording the thoughts of God. Could Paul have imagined that his letters would also be included in canon?
In the body of believers, we tend to see deep theological meaning in Paul’s letters. Further, we (or at least I) believe that there are messages “encoded” within said-letters that are difficult to understand without a “Rabbinic” comprehension of the text. Scholars such as Mark Nanos and Roy Blizzard have written erudite works unpackaging the “hidden” meanings within Paul’s writing. But the Sages in more normative Judaism across the long centuries and into the modern era, reading the letters of Paul from a Rabbinic perspective, see nothing but a condemnation of Jewish people and Judaism in Paul’s writings. If Paul’s letters are so “Jewish” that most Christians don’t “get” Paul, why don’t most Jewish sages “get” Paul the way we do when peering through a Messianic Jewish lens?
In line with the above, I’ve attempted to answer the “Hagar and Sarah” question with my own commentary based on Ariel Berkowitz’s paper A Torah-Positive Summary of Sha’ul’s Letter to the Galatians. However my explanation of more hidden meanings doesn’t seem to pass the “pshat test,” whereby the plain meaning of the text is still the primary meaning, even if there are other more hidden and even mystic meanings contained within.
Finally, many if not most of Paul’s letters were written to a primarily Gentile audience, with many or most of them having limited literacy (according to my source) and for those fresh out of paganism, virtually no apprehension of Judaism, Jewish thought, Hebrew idiom and word play, and Jewish symbolism. If Paul were writing to a bunch of Rabbis or other learned Jews, we could understand Paul crafting letters with great amounts of complicated theological detail, but wasn’t he trying to get his ideas across to mostly common Greek-speaking people?
It’s possible that no one can answer these questions or at least that no one will be willing to answer these questions on my blog, so I may continue to be stuck until subsequent investigation (which experience tells me could be months or years) helps me to understand where the answers lie (or, Heaven forbid, that there are no answers to give to my Jewish friend). I should say that my primary goal isn’t to “convert” him or otherwise convince him to become “Messianic.” My goal is to show why any intelligent and reasonable person could accept the writings in what the Church calls “the New Testament” as scripture at all and why we would go jumping through all of the hoops we have been in order to refactor Paul as pro-Torah and pro-Judaism after nearly two-thousand years of Church doctrine has been teaching the exact opposite?
I plan to put links to this blog post in the relevant groups in both Facebook and Google+. I’d like to encourage the readers there to post your responses here so my friend (and any other interested parties) can read them. If they’re “trapped” in closed groups on either of those social networking platforms, then they will not be available for my audience here.