Tag Archives: apostle Paul

What I Learned in Church Today: Christianity is Jewish

Get past the title. Get past the title. Just keep reading.

Is Christianity a Judaism? I think most Christians and most Jews would say “no,” but last Sunday morning in church, Pastor Randy said it was. In fact, it was the second Sunday he’s said such a thing.

Christianity is a Judaism?

I was kind of surprised that he said that. He also said that when Jesus returns, it will be as a Jewish King, the Messiah and he will still be Jewish.

You might be thinking “oh duh, of course he’ll be Jewish,” but there are a lot of Christians out there who believe his being Jewish died on the cross with him and that Jesus was resurrected as someone more “generic” in terms of ethnicity.

The last few times when Pastor has spoken with me at church, practically the first words out of his mouth as we’re shaking hands is, “I’ve been reading your blog.” He hasn’t said much else to me lately, so I’ve tended to take that as a message meaning he’s not really happy about what I’ve been writing. But now I wonder.

I’ve certainly been hammering away at the Jewishness of the ekklesia of the Messiah and how the Christian Church, as it exists today, won’t be what the ekklesia will be like in Messianic days.

As I was quickly taking notes on the sermon (Acts 25:23-26:32), I continued to reflect on the implications of Pastor’s words. Although I have no problem with any of the statements he made, I wondered how the rest of the congregation was taking it. No one mentioned it in Sunday school, although we were studying Ephesians 4 rather than Pastor’s message, so there wasn’t a natural opportunity to bring up the subject.

In speaking on Acts 26:4-18, Pastor referred to it as “A Conversion Story” but oddly enough, he defined “conversion” as making a “u-turn,” turning away from darkness and turning to light, to God.

That sounds more like teshuvah than conversion and in any event, as Dr. Larry Hurtado mentioned in a comment to me on his blog:

In any case, Paul didn’t undergo a “conversion” to “Christianity.” He refers to his experience as a prophet-like “calling” (e.g., Gal. 1:13-15), and there was no “Christianity” (as a separate religion) to which he could “convert” as a Jew. We could describe the former “pagans” (gentiles) that formed his churches as “converting” from the worship of their various ancestral deities to the God of the Bible/Israel.

paul-on-the-road-to-damascusSo Dr. Hurtado would call it “A Prophet-Like Calling Story” while using Pastor’s own definition, I could call the Acts 9 event “A Teshuvah Story”.

No, Paul wasn’t repenting of being Jewish or of practicing Judaism. Far from it. However, we could say that he had to make teshuvah relative to his disbelief in Yeshua as the Messiah and opposing God’s plan of using the ekklesia of “the Way” to bring Jews and Gentiles to Hashem and inaugurate the New Covenant in our world.

“So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?”

Acts 26:4-8 (NASB)

I’m pulling a lot of my interpretation of this section of scripture, not only from D. Thomas Lancaster’s lectures on the New Covenant, but his sermon series The Holy Epistle to the Hebrews.

Paul continues to identify himself as a Pharisee, living in the strictest sense of that stream of Judaism, and that he has the “hope of the promise made by God to” his “fathers”, the hope of the resurrection, of life from the dead. He even asks his Roman audience as well as King Agrippa why they should find it so difficult to believe that the God who created the universe could also raise the dead back to life, thus extending the promise beyond just the Jewish people and making it a hope for all human beings.

Apostle Paul preachingIt may have seemed that Paul was the prisoner, but he appears to have made a captive audience of his jailers and accusers in delivering the message of the Good News.

I did have the opportunity to discuss part of Pastor’s sermon with one young fellow in Sunday school. After class let out, he had some questions about a part of Ephesians he’d been studying and thought for some reason I could help answer his queries.

In the course of our conversation, I realized part of the problem many late second temple period Jewish groups had with accepting Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah.

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Acts 1:6-8 (NASB)

Even Yeshua’s disciples believed that the Messiah would first raise Israel as the head of all the nations, defeat her enemies, and ascend the Throne of David, and only afterward reconcile the Gentiles to God. Saying that the Messiah died, was resurrected, and ascended into Heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand and that before he returned to take the throne, the Gentiles would be brought alongside Israel in the worship of Hashem was reversing the expected order of things.

For a lot of Jews, it must have seemed pretty bogus to say that Gentiles could be brought into the ekkelsia, into a Jewish community and worship space, as equal co-participants while the Messiah was not yet physically ruling as King over Israel and over the rest of the world.

Paul knew the truth but he had a special insight. He had received two visions of the Messiah (Acts 9:3-8, Acts 22:17-22) and was caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) and taught inexpressible words that he was not permitted to speak. For those Jews and Gentiles who believed, they did so from a profound sense of faith, since even though Paul could be persuasive, his words were not always convincing to every one who listened.

King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.” Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”

Acts 26:27-29 (NASB)

When Agrippa said “become a Christian,” the term “Christian” was not used in the same sense as we understand it today, because, as I’ve mentioned on numerous previous occasions, faith in Messiah Yeshua was not a religious stream distinct from Judaism at that point in history. Agrippa might have just as well said “make me a disciple of the Way”. And it was well-known that Agrippa was hardly devout and pious though he doubtless had some education in the traditions of his fathers (for Paul knew Agrippa believed the Prophets).

The Jewish PaulDoes that bring us back to thinking of Christianity as a Judaism, or am I the one getting things reversed?

During his lifetime, Paul obviously considered faith in Yeshua as Messiah King to be the next, natural, logical extension in the development of God’s plan for Israel. Yeshua was and is the beginning of God’s starting to fulfill the New Covenant promises to Israel, but those promises include bringing the Gentiles into worship of Hashem by coming along side Israel and becoming attached to her. Messiah was the doorway for the Gentiles to enter that forward-progressing stream of God’s plan for Israel, not by making Gentiles into Jews through the proselyte rite, but allowing them (us) to remain of the nations and yet, as was prophesied, enjoying the blessings of the spirit and the hope of the resurrection into the age of peace and tranquility.

I’d like to believe that some of the things I’ve written lately have been positively received by Pastor Randy, but that’s probably arrogant presumption on my part. However, his sermon last Sunday did seem to speak to many of the themes I write about on my blog. I not only found myself in general agreement with Pastor’s sermon but found myself learning some things I hadn’t noticed before in my reading of this part of Luke’s “Acts”.

Is Christianity a Judaism? In its current form, we can say that it owes a great deal to its Hebrew or Jewish roots, but there’s a lot about that “Judaism” the Church as left by the wayside. But as Pastor said, the return of Jesus is the return of the Jewish Messiah King to the Throne of David in the City of David.

With Jewish devotees cheering and Gentile disciples alongside them crying out in joyous approval, Messiah will raise Israel up as the most exalted of all nations, rebuild the Temple, return the Jewish exiles to their Land, rule the world with a rod of iron, and bring peace to all peoples.

What will the ekklesia be then? It will be Jewish, but it should be remembered that “every knee shall bow” (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11), not just of the Jews but of everyone, the whole world.

The Nangeroni Seminar on the Jewish Apostle Paul

I returned last night from a very enjoyable trip to Rome to take part in the Nangeroni Seminar on “Paul as a Second-Temple Jew.” For more information on the Nangeroni Seminars click here. This encouraging and demanding event brought together about 35 scholars from various countries who are specialists on second-temple Judaism and/or the Apostle Paul. The premise and the broad conclusion to which all assented is that Paul was and remained in his ministry as apostle to gentiles a Jew. He did not renounce his identity as a member of the Jewish people. He did not demonize his ancestral religion. He did not reject the Torah (“Law”) as false. He did not regard his Jewish past as one of frustration, failure, inability to observe Torah, or as something to escape. He did not play off the particularity of his Jewishness in favour of some kind of universalism.

-Dr. Larry Hurtado
“Paul: The Second-Temple Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles”
Larry Hurtado’s Blog

In case you need a quick background on who Larry Hurtado is and what his qualifications are as a New Testament scholar, you can either Google him or read his Wikipedia page.

I’ve quoted Dr. Hurtado before on my blog and always for two reasons. One is that he is a noteworthy, mainstream Christian New Testament scholar who is currently active in his research, he’s well-respected in his field, and he has published extensively both in scholarly venues and in popular reading. The second reason I refer to him is that he has what I consider to be a fascinating view of Paul’s Christology and one that many “average” Christians might find surprising.

I’ve complained in the past that the latest findings of Christian scholarly research never find their way to the pulpit of the normative Evangelical church let alone into the hands and minds of Evangelicals sitting in their pews every Sunday.

More’s the pity.

That means as Christians, we have to go looking for this information, which isn’t that hard to find. After all, Dr. Hurtado’s books are easily found at Amazon and he maintains a WordPress blog.

Nevertheless, a statement such as the one I quoted above, would almost never be heard in any American church on Sunday, either in a sermon or a Bible study class.

What we hear, or rather, what I hear in the church I attend, is somewhat similar to how men like Pastor John MacArthur view Paul relative to Judaism and Christianity. I’ve reviewed the relevant sermons given by Pastor MacArthur in a three-part series (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three) on my blog, but in short, MacArthur believes that any practice of Judaism by Paul or the other Apostles was a “transitional period” between the end of the Law (Torah) and the beginning of the Christian era of grace. That is, from God’s point of view, Judaism was expected to cease as a valid and normative worship and religious practice in devotion to God through Christ (Messiah).

The Jewish PaulAnd yet, compared to “35 scholars from various countries who are specialists on second-temple Judaism and/or the Apostle Paul” all gathered together who agree that Paul “did not renounce his identity as a member of the Jewish people,” nor did he “demonize his ancestral religion,” did not “reject the Torah (“Law”) as false,” and “did not regard his Jewish past as one of frustration, failure, inability to observe Torah, or as something to escape,” opinions such as the one from MacArthur and most other Evangelical Pastors seem as archaic as dinosaurs.

I don’t say this to be unkind, nor do I “resurrect” my arguments about MacArthur just because I can. I’m trying to illustrate (again) for my Christian readers and for any other Christians who possibly will find my writings by “surfing the web,” that what we’re typically taught in church about Paul (and thus about Jesus) isn’t necessarily the most accurate information we can acquire. The majority of what is taught in most churches (as far as I can tell) is based more on the traditions we’ve built around Biblical exegesis than on active and modern Biblical research.

Studying the Bible isn’t supposed to be for the purpose of endlessly regurgitating what we have already been taught for years or even decades, it’s to discover what we may not know or understand about the message of the Bible, and thus to better understand God and who we are in Christ.

Science, in its broadest possible sense, is the testing and retesting of beliefs and observations to determine if they are valid. If we test a belief, an assumption, or a theory through objective means and the test validates our belief, that’s fine and well. However, if we apply such a test to a belief and we discover it to be invalid or at least questionable, then that demands an investigation…

…doesn’t it?

My experience in church and especially in Sunday school, is that the apparent purpose of Bible study is to confirm what we already know, which provides us with doctrinal and emotional security. Cooperation and agreement of opinions are emphasized and variations in beliefs are tolerated only if those variations are slight and conform to established and accepted parameters.

Heaven help someone in Sunday school if they were to say that not only did Paul remain Jewish and devoted to the Torah of Moses, but that he saw absolutely no inconsistency between continuation of Torah observance and worship of Jesus as the Messiah within a variant of normative first century Judaism. Within the Sunday school context, that statement would at least raise a few eyebrows if not be considered an extremely radical suggestion.

And yet we have thirty-five scholars and experts in Paul and/or the late second temple period who uniformly agree on exactly that “extremely radical suggestion.”

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

But I don’t want to put words in Dr. Hurtado’s mouth. After all, he’s said that Paul did not see an inconsistency between being Jewish, practicing Judaism and the prophetic revelation of Jesus as Messiah. But does that mean, at least from Hurtado’s perspective, that Judaism should have continued to be the religious framework for Jesus-worship and will be in the coming Messianic age? After all, I’ve previously written about the rather ugly divorce that occurred between Gentile and Jewish Jesus-believers. Could the relationship between Jesus-believing Jews and Gentiles have been saved or will it be restored in the future?

I asked Dr. Hurtado the following on his blog:

Dr. Hurtado, I don’t know if you can answer this question but it’s one I need to ask. I attend a rather conservative Evangelical church. The Pastor preaches that although Paul continued to live as a Jew after his “conversion” to Christianity, the continuation of his (and the other Jewish apostles) Jewish practice was always considered by God to be a “transitionary period.” Judaism was expected to cease as a normative approach to God through Christ and be replaced by “the Church” which would “retire” Jewish practices and replace them with a “law-free” body of Jewish and Gentile believers.

If, as you say, Paul saw the worship of Messiah as a variant of Jewish practice in his day, is it reasonable to believe that he expected Jesus-worship to remain a variant Judaism that included a Gentile component not required to undergo the proselyte rite? That is, was (Gentile) Christianity always destined to replace Judaism in the worship of Christ or was/is it expected that worship and devotion to Christ was to remain a Judaism that included Gentiles?

To which he replied:

James: To engage your question involves speculation . . . about what Paul might have imagined that the future would comprise, how much of a future there would be to his present world, etc. The intense eschatological hope/expectation that seems reflected in Paul’s letters has led some scholars to judge that Paul’s vision of the “ekklesia of God” as both comprising Jewish believers (who continued to practice Torah as Jews) and non-Jewish believers was not viable over the long haul. Historical events of the first couple of centuries after Paul’s time can be invoked in justification for this judgement. But one might also ask whether the problem was an inherent problem in Paul’s vision, or whether other factors, including the Jewish war of 66-72 CE and other things (including a failure of many Christians of that time to grasp Paul’s vision) contributed to the emergence of a mainly gentile “Christianity” distinguished from a “Judaism”. For one view, I recommend a book by my friend, the late Alan F. Segal, Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univesity Press, 1986).

In any case, Paul didn’t undergo a “conversion” to “Christianity.” He refers to his experience as a prophet-like “calling” (e.g., Gal. 1:13-15), and there was no “Christianity” (as a separate religion) to which he could “convert” as a Jew. We could describe the former “pagans” (gentiles) that formed his churches as “converting” from the worship of their various ancestral deities to the God of the Bible/Israel.

So, to break this down:

  • We would have to speculate about how Paul thought the future Messianic movement would develop since we cannot definitively know from his writings.
  • Some scholars judge Paul’s vision of the “ekkelsia of God” as being made up of formerly pagan Gentiles and Torah observant Jews was not a viable model and could not persist over time.
  • History seems to validate the viewpoint of scholars who did not expect the Jewish/Gentile ekkelsia to endure.
  • We don’t know if this is because there was an inherent flaw in Paul’s vision or if various factors including the Jewish revolt contributed to the outcome of a splitting off of Gentile Christianity from Judaism.

In other words, as Dr. Hurtado outlines things, we can’t really know, based on a scholarly understanding of Paul’s letters, what he expected the future to hold. We also can’t really tell if Paul’s vision of the “ekklesia of God” was flawed and thus could not endure as he attempted to construct it, or, assuming his model was fine, if history conspired to destroy Messiah-worship as a normative Jewish practice going forward in time.

beth immanuelIt’s also possible, as Hurtado states, that one of the factors was the Gentile inability to grasp Paul’s vision, although from other books and papers I’ve read, plus my own understanding of the relevant sections of the New Testament, it seems as if the other streams of Judaism in Paul’s day had an equally difficult time accepting Paul’s concept of non-proselyte Gentiles entering a Jewish social and religious space.

I did like Hurtado verifying for me that Paul indeed did not “convert to Christianity” as is preached in many churches (including the one I currently attend), and that his experience in Acts 9 and later was a “prophet-like calling” that revealed the identity of the Messiah within a wholly Jewish experience. This sent Paul on a mission to the Jews and Gentiles, not unlike how God would call upon and task the prophets of old. Paul would have “converted” to “the Way” as I suppose a Jewish person of that era would have “converted” from one branch of Judaism to another (Sadducee to Pharisee for example), although I have no idea how common that sort of thing would have been in those days (and my understanding is that “the Way” was very similar in most respects to Pharisaism apart from it’s very liberal attitude about Gentile admission and, of course, devotion to a known-Messiah).

The only real converts would be Gentiles, since they would be exiting their worship of the various pagan gods and begin worshiping the God of Israel through faith in Israel’s Messiah.

While Hurtado presented me with something of a scholarly “dead-end” in my quest to develop the idea that Judaism was the proper context for Jesus-faith and possibly that it will be again in the Messianic age (since this requires some speculation), I’ll still proceed from that speculative platform for lack of any better place to stand.

My reading of Magnus Zetterholm, Mark Nanos, and others leads me to believe that while a Gentile/Jewish schism did take place splitting Jesus-faith into two camps and ultimately extinguishing the body of Jewish Jesus-faith, that doesn’t necessarily invalidate Judaism as a context for devotion to Messiah, complete with the continuation of Torah observance in response to their covenant relationship with God.

What will the future bring? I have my own ideas about that, but I suppose in an ultimate sense, we’ll have to wait and see about the exact details of the unfolding of the Messianic Era.

Since Dr. Hurtado suggested it, I went ahead and ordered the book he referenced (see the quote above) and I look forward to reading it when it arrives.

I intended to publish this tomorrow or maybe on Sunday, but then I realized we are rapidly approaching a major (American) national holiday weekend and I can expect a significant drop off in my readership over those three days, so I’m offering this to you now as an “extra meditation”. Have a good, fun and safe Independence Day and for those of you who observe it, a Good Shabbos.

Addendum: Dr. Hurtado published another blog post today, based on his time at the Nangeroni Seminar, called Paul and Gentile Circumcision. I definitely recommend it.

What I Learned in Church Today: Anti-Gentilism and Crypto-Supersessionism

Before starting, I wish to apologize to Pastor Randy, everyone at his church,  and any Christians who may be offended by what I’m about to say. I’m sorry but the Church isn’t perfect. It’s full of flawed human beings (I know, I’m one of them). Last Sunday, one of those people proved it and I’m proving it again by even talking about it. I probably shouldn’t. I almost didn’t. But I decided in the end that this needs to be said, not to injure the Church but to help it improve.

Now to begin today’s “morning meditation.”

Two statements from the notes handed out in the church bulletin on Pastor’s sermon for last Sunday:

Paul’s Conversion in Damascus (22:2b-13)

  1. His Previous Conduct – How Judaism Once Controlled His Life (vs. 2b-5)
  2. His Present Conduct – How Jesus Now Controls His Life (vs. 6-13)

This was part of Pastor’s sermon on Acts 21:35-22:2a. For a little context, here are the relevant passage of scripture:

And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said,

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.

“But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. and I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.

“A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him.”

Acts 22:2-13 (NASB)

I go over the notes for the sermon before services while everyone else is “schmoozing” and drinking coffee. Sometimes, I’ll even start writing down my impressions (I’m kind of a nerd that way). When I saw the two points above, my immediate response was “Judaism and the Jewish Messiah are not mutually exclusive.”

It’s doubtful Pastor meant to say they were, at least in a first century context (today is another story), but so many Evangelical Pastors believe that with the so-called “birthday of the Church” in Acts 2, God had declared Judaism (and possibly the Jewish people) obsolete and replaced by Christianity and the Church (neither of which existed as we understand them today at that point in history).

Actually, I really liked today’s (as I write this) sermon. Pastor really shines in his knowledge of Biblical history as well as the languages involved, and he brought out many details I thought were important and illuminating. At the same time, I could see the “lights” dim in the eyes of some of the people around me as Pastor may have (for them) gotten a bit too historical and scholarly.

He also delivered a welcome and rousing speech condemning anti-Semitism and the shocking fact that there are some two-hundred neo-Nazi organizations in the U.S. today that teach adults and children to hate and kill Jews and other minority populations. Anti-Semitism should not exist in our world, especially post-Holocaust.

ChurchThe only thing he left out was how for nearly all of the history of the Church, we have been one of the chief supporters of anti-Semitism, pogroms, forced conversions, torture, and murder of countless Jewish people, not to mention the numbers of synagogues, Torah scrolls, and volumes of Talmud we’ve destroyed “in the name of Jesus”.

Thankfully, Christians don’t participate in such actions today, but there’s an echo of that same sentiment toward Jewish people we can still hear in our churches right now, including in the Sunday school class I attended a few hours (as I write this) ago.

I’ll get to that in a bit.

In reading Paul recite his own history about how he so zealously opposed the Messianic Jewish movement of the Way, I realized the Bible never directly addresses why Paul embraced such murderous hate of the movement. What did it mean to him personally? Why did he make it his special mission to eradicate Jewish Jesus-believers?

Typically in the late second Temple period, the Way was opposed by other Jewish groups because of it’s unusually wide acceptance of Gentiles as equal co-participants in Jewish religious and social space without the requirement of the non-Jews undergoing the proselyte rite.

“And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!”

Acts 22:21-22 (NASB)

The Jewish crowd, that had previously assaulted Paul because of the mistaken belief that the apostle had taken a Gentile into the Temple, up to this point, was (presumably) calmly listening to Paul relate his first encounter with Messiah, even describing how Yeshua appeared to him in a vision of light, and that he heard a Bat Kol from Heaven. Seemingly, they did not object to Paul’s assertion that Yeshua was Messiah and even that he could speak from the Divine realm. They only became once again enraged when Paul mentioned the Gentiles.

But when Paul previously opposed the Way some thirty years before, it was early enough in history that there would have been few, if any Gentiles participating in the Messianic Jewish movement. Paul’s motivation couldn’t have been Gentile involvement. But what else could it have been?

But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?”

Mark 14:61-64 (NASB)

PhariseesJewish objections to Jesus were never about claims of his being Messiah. Would-be Messiahs came and went in Judaism all of the time. The worst Jesus and his followers could have been accused of was being wrong, but being wrong is hardly blasphemy. What would have been considered blasphemy was a man declaring himself co-equal with God. This is why the High Priest tore his clothes. This is what got Jesus killed. This is what the Jewish people found so incredibly offensive and wanted to exterminate.

(As an aside, for more details about Jewish objections to Messiah as Deity, read Derek Leman’s new ebook The Divine Messiah as well as my book review on his work.)

Paul (Saul) was present at the defense of Stephen (Acts 7) and heard the disciple of the Master state, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56), declaring Yeshua co-equal with God. Saul willingly held the cloaks of the men of the Sanhedrin as they drove Stephen outside the city and stoned him to death.

This may have been the genesis of Paul’s hatred of the Way, a sect of Judaism that went one step too far in not only following a (presumably) dead man as Messiah, but believing him to be co-equal with God and God Himself.

So in opposing blasphemy, from the point of view of most Jews of his day (or for that matter, ours), Saul was in the right (even though it turned out he was wrong). The only thing really questionable was how personal his hatred of the Jewish Messianics seemed to be. We can speculate as to Saul’s reasons, but the Bible is silent as to what they might have been.

So in Acts 9, Paul did not “convert to Christianity,” but he did have a supernatural and highly personal encounter with the Master, strong enough to override all of Paul’s previous motivation and set him on a new track. That track however, was one that was completely Jewish and might even be described as “Pharisaism with a Messianic twist”. By his own admission, Paul’s beliefs and practices were still totally consistent with being a Pharisee and a zealot for the Torah, but he was most of all a zealot for Messiah within a completely Jewish lived reality.

Although I thought Pastor’s sermon was very good with just a few slight wrinkles, Sunday school was another story. You may recall from a previous blog post how my wife had pointed out my arrogance, and as a result, I began to reevaluate my role in the church.

Out of that, I resolved, at least for a time, to remain silent in Sunday school. I mentioned to the teacher before class got started that I would be keeping quiet, and he honored that by not posing me with any questions.

There were more than a few times during class when I regretted my decision, although I still think it was for the best.

Oh sure, the non-believing Jews who opposed Paul were called “satanic” for their devotion to the Law and their rejection of Jesus (although nowhere in the narrative we were studying does it mention them rejecting Jesus at all). Teacher likes to label non-believing Jews as “influenced by Satan” from time to time, and I’ve called him on it in the past. He can’t seem to imagine the actual motivation and reasoning involved in first century Jews not understanding Gentile equality in a Jewish social and worship venue. I’ve noticed some Christians often treat the people they encounter in the Bible as “characters” playing out some sort of artificial role in a “Bible story,” as if they weren’t (and aren’t) real, live human beings in actual human situations.

Adult Sunday SchoolBut a number of people in class were sort of chuckling at the “ignorance” of the Jewish mob who had finally settled down and was listening to Paul’s words, and how they had a “hissy fit” upon Paul’s mention of the Gentiles.

At one point, a gentleman piped up complaining about all the accusations of “anti-Semitism” against Christians and wondering if there was some sort of opposite sentiment like Jewish “anti-Gentilism” (I suppose he was thinking along the lines of something like reverse discrimination, but depending on your point of view, that may or may not exist).

That’s when I started gritting my teeth. It’s incredible that anyone who has studied the Bible for any length of time (this person, by the way, seems well-read and intelligent) can miss why, especially on one of the three major pilgrim festivals on the Jewish religious calendar, Jews would be highly sensitive to Gentiles invading Jewish worship and social space in the Temple (which was what they were reacting to).

For cryin’ out loud, the Romans had invaded the whole blamed country and were occupying it. The Jewish nation was hip deep in oppressive, cruel, dictatorial Gentile Roman soldiers. Who responded to keep the peace when the Jewish mobs rioted? The Roman soldiers. Why? Because Rome had control of Israel and jurisdiction over Jerusalem, including on the Temple Mount where the riot occurred. Of course the crowds of Jews, both native to the Land and from the diaspora, millions of them inhabiting Jerusalem during the festival of Shavuot, would have been incensed at the very idea of Gentiles taking even more away from the Jewish people than they already had.

Believe me, if you were a Jew in that situation, you’d probably have “lost it,” too.

I stayed silent and no one else spoke up. Remember those echoes I mentioned before? This was one of them.

I’ve already got enough theological and doctrinal issues to address in church as it is. I don’t want to find something like this on top of it all.

I know it might seem like a small thing to some, maybe to most people. Maybe it’s just that I’m married to a Jewish wife and have three Jewish children. But the Church, including each and every individual in my little local church, won’t truly make Pastor’s dream of a world without anti-Semitism come true until we really start treating the ancient and modern Jews like real people with real concerns instead of caricatures or stereotypes used only as “bad examples” of religion without Christ.

My Sunday school teacher made a point several times in class to emphasize how, when we believe we don’t like someone, to look deeper and to find what is good in them rather than focus on what we dislike. In complaining about the Jewish crowd who opposed Paul as displaying “anti-Gentilism” and failing to see why they would feel and act as they did, one Christian gentleman overtly failed in that mission and by not speaking up, the rest of us silently agreed that we didn’t have to look past Jewish anger to see Jewish hurt, fear, and vulnerability.

Christian and JewishWe always read these “Bible stories” supporting Paul and the rest of the believing Jews and Gentiles, and imagining the Jews who were “persecuting the Church,” including Saul back in the day, as fools and villains. The Church exists in a post-missionary, crypto-supersessionist space, even now, relative to the Jewish people and Israel. If I would have called this gentleman on his comment, I don’t think it would have done any good. I’m an outsider, an anomaly in Christian religious and communal space. The rest of them had heard the Pastor’s plea to end prejudice against Jews in the Church. But at least one person didn’t think it applied to him.

Matters leading to sadness fall into two categories: matters that can be corrected and matters that cannot.

If something can be done to correct a situation, why feel sad? Simply take action to correct the matter!

On the other hand, if nothing can be done, what gain is there in feeling sad? Sadness will not improve matters. It is wiser to accept what cannot be changed.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Tonight at sundown begins the Festival of Shavuot which I commented on a few days ago. As long as even one believer thinks the “birthday of the church” completely overrides this moed’s meaning to God’s chosen people, the Jews, the Church will never be free of its anti-Jewish history.

One last thing. I’m often critical of the Church, not because I’m into “Christian-bashing” but because I believe that the Church, the Gentile Jesus-believing ekklesia, is good. But it could be a whole lot better. I’ve defended the Church more than once, and one of the defining qualities of Christianity is love of one’s neighbor and fellowship.  I know I’m only one man, but I can see this so clearly. We need to do better, a lot better. We need to see the Jewish people and Israel as God sees them. Only then can we fulfill our own purpose as the people of the nations who are called by His Name to be the crowning jewels surrounding and uplifting Israel and her King Messiah.

Should We Get Rid of Paul?

From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus. And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.

Acts 20:17-24 (NRSV)

Pastor Randy’s sermon today (it’s Sunday afternoon as I write this) had some very nice things to say about Paul. This isn’t surprising, since we’ve been studying Paul’s life and activities as an Apostle to the Gentiles and as a role model for Christians, and especially for missionaries, in the Church today.

But Paul has been on my mind lately. This is sort of a “part 2” to my previous blog post Questioning Paul. While Paul’s teachings as we have them in Luke’s Book of Acts and in many of the Epistles are well accepted by the Church, since after all, these sources are part of our Biblical canon, not everyone sees Paul as a beneficial influence. In fact, he’s a big problem to almost everyone else outside of the normative Church who cares about his impact on Christianity, Judaism, and the world beyond.

As you recall from prior blog posts, I’d been having an email conversation with a Jewish friend of mine about Paul and how my friend believes the Epistles show Paul to be an arrogant, anti-Law Apostle, possibly a convert to Judaism, and certainly a traitor to the Jewish people, to the Torah, and to the Temple.

I posted this link to my review of the second lecture in D. T. Lancaster’s five-part series What About The New Covenant into a closed group on Google+. I got another perspective on Paul from a person who replied with the following comments (edited for context):

OK, please post supporting OT scripture or where Yeshua said this was so, not Paul’s rabbinical commentary of OT scripture. Let’s stick to the source.

I look at the writings of Paul as for (sic) what they are, they ARE commentary on what is already written. If they add to or remove from what is written in the Tanach, then they are false. They HAVE to agree, plain and simple.

In other words, Paul’s letters (and probably the Book of Acts as well as epistles written by other apostles) are mere commentary and not on the same level as the Torah, Prophets, Writings (Tanakh or Old Testament), and Gospels. We are free to disregard Paul whenever we perceive that Paul is in contradiction with the Tanakh or the teachings of Jesus in the four Gospel accounts.

So let’s review the three positions we have on Paul so far:

  • Christians accept Luke’s Book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul as Biblical canon and writings inspired by the Holy Spirit, just like the other books in the Bible.
  • Generally, Jewish people do not accept any of the writings in the part of the Christian Bible from Matthew through Revelation, and my friend suggests that I consider the Epistles more “authentic” because they are Paul’s own words and reveal him to be anti-Judaism, anti-Jewish people, and anti-Torah, thus in conflict with the Tanakh.
  • At least one representative of the Hebrew Roots “One Law” movement, accepts Paul’s letters as an authentic part of the Bible, but only at the level of Torah commentary, much like how Christians consider portions of Talmud, thus whenever Paul seems to contradict the Torah, Prophets, and Writings, the Tanakh must be right and Paul must be wrong.

hebrews_letterI haven’t spoken of this on my blog, though I have in more private conversations, but I remember, I think it was back in 2005, when a fellow named Monte Judah, who is the head of an organization called Lion and Lamb Ministries, publicly came out and said that the Book of Hebrews should not be part of Biblical canon. His article is rather lengthy, so I won’t attempt to analyze it or quote from it here, but the problem he produced then in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish worlds is the problem I seem to be experiencing: can we “adjust” Biblical canon to eliminate or minimize portions of scripture we find are a “problem?”

Of course, from my Jewish friend’s perspective (as a non-believer), there’s no issue since nothing in the New Testament is considered the Bible, thus Paul should be a “non-event.” Paul, or at least how he’s been traditionally interpreted, is only an issue to the degree that his writings have been used by the Church for nearly two-thousand years, to at best marginalize the Jewish people, and at worst to exterminate them.

This isn’t the Paul that I know, who would take any risk and suffer anything for the sake of his Jewish brothers and sisters:

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:1-5 (NRSV)

But even here, the letter picking up at verse 6 seems to see Paul damning those he just praised. Paul appears to be a maddening contradiction, at once praising the Jewish people and denigrating them; at once saying how lovely the Torah is and also how it is the way of death. They can’t both be right. Either Paul was hopelessly double-minded or we’re missing something.

John Mauck

Men like John Mauck, Mark Nanos, and Scot McKnight have been trying to interpret Paul in a way that actually makes sense and doesn’t violate God’s intent toward the Jewish people or break God’s prior covenants with them as we see in the Tanakh, but it’s an uphill battle. Both Christianity and Judaism see Paul in fundamentally the same way, a man who walked away from Judaism and, based on the teachings of Jesus, created a brand-new faith for non-Jewish people that Jews could only join by abandoning their Jewish birthright.

For at least a few in the Hebrew Roots movement, the answer to Paul is to downgrade him from scripture writer to Bible commentator whereby he “merely” is interpreting older scripture without adding to canon as such. Again, I can only assume that the other epistles and Luke’s Acts are also relegated to the status of commentary (which doesn’t make them scripture at all) and only the Gospels (and John’s Revelation?) are the real, authentic Word of God we find post-Tanakh.

Paul is a lightning rod of controversy because of the apparent contradictions in his writings and the “weirdness” of having letters included as part of our Bible. On the other hand, Revelation 2 and 3 record Messiah’s personal correspondence to seven diaspora churches, so Jesus himself creates a wrinkle in the fabric of what we consider scriptural writings.

How are we to evaluate canon? Who is qualified, competent, and has the authority (which presumably would have to come from God) to change the Bible we have today? Who has the right to subtract entire books from the Bible or even a paragraph, a sentence, a word, or a letter?

Certainly not me.

You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.

Deuteronomy 4:2 (NRSV)

But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

Galatians 1:8-9 (NRSV)

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Revelation 22:18-19 (NRSV)

Admittedly, I’m taking these verses out of context and I can’t say that they present a blanket statement that covers the entire Bible from Genesis through Revelation (though they do seem to cover the Torah, the Gospel as presented in the context of Paul’s Galatians letter, and Revelation), but they do indicate that it is a dangerous thing to play fast and loose with the contents of the Bible. I mean, we already play around a lot with the context of the Bible, with how we choose to interpret it, with how we decide what it means, but once we think we’re all big and bad enough to decide as individuals or groups, that we can put this part in the Bible and take another part out, we might as well resolve to meet our demise in the manner of Nadab and Abihu.

nadab-abihu-fireOne does not treat a consuming fire lightly.

My answer is that we have no sound basis for changing the contents of the Bible, which for better or worse, has been part of our religious canon for almost twenty centuries as far as the Apostolic Writings go, and the rest of the Bible, a good deal longer.

The Bible is what it is. We either learn to live with it and try to learn from it, or we admit defeat by either blindly trusting what leaders and experts tell us it means, or give up our faith altogether, or as much of it as is based on the Bible. If we love the Tanakh but don’t trust the Apostolic Writings, we Gentiles, by definition, must abandon Jesus and convert to Judaism (or alternately become Noahides). This could include even those who feel comfortable readjusting the level of Paul’s importance and authority as a Bible author, for once you start questioning Paul, how much “Christianity” do you have left?

As a disciple of my Master, the only reasonable choice I have is to believe that all of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, tells a single story about God and Israel and what that story means about the people of the nations. I have to believe, even though there seems to be different messages from and about Paul in Acts and in the Epistles, that there is an internally consistent Paul who believed one thing, was on a single mission, and who was always faithful to God, the Master, the Torah, the Temple, and the Jewish people.

Three days later he called together the local leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. When they had examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor—even though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”

Acts 28:17-20 (NRSV)

This is only one time when Paul defends himself against the false charges of teaching Jews against following the Torah of Moses (see Acts 21:21-24, 24:10-21, 25:10, and 26:22-23 for other portions of Paul’s testimony). If Paul is telling the truth, and I believe he must be (for why would he suffer such terrible persecution including beatings, stonings, and other hardships just to lie in order to get out of punishment now) then we must be reading wrong those portions of his letters that seem to indicate that Paul had a low (or no) view of the Torah.

I know I’m probably pinning a lot of my hopes for understanding the Apostle to the Gentiles on the scholars of the New Perspective on Paul, but I really don’t think there’s another reasonable option. Given everything I’ve said up to this point, the only answer to this conundrum is that our interpretation of Paul, the Church’s traditional, historical interpretation of Paul, is faulty, due either to an early second and third century misunderstanding, or to a deliberate “massaging” of the text in an attempt to make Paul fit an anti-Jewish paradigm.

Tinkering with Biblical canon in any way isn’t an option and frankly, I think you’d have to be pretty “nervy” to even suggest it. The Bible is what it is. Now, the challenge is to discover the identity of the real, consistent, sane, Pharisee and observant Jew who we call the Apostle Paul.

Questioning Paul

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 covenantsone 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 children26 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?

The Jewish PaulIn 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.

Thank you.

Prologue to the Irony of Galatians

The Irony of GalatiansFinally, I want to acknowledge the victims of certain interpretations of Paul’s voice, especially those who have suffered the Shoah. Their suffering cannot be separated from the prejudices resulting from those interpretations any more than it can be wholly attributed to them. To them I dedicate the effort represented in this book.

-Mark D. Nanos
from the Acknowledgments, pg ix
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

Such a strange way to end a series of acknowledgments for a book. The author usually thanks his/her publisher, editor, spouse, and whoever else contributed to or who were sometimes inconvenienced by the author’s writing of the book. Occasionally, religious people will thank God, their congregation, and so forth, in addition to the “usual suspects.” Having written a few books myself (though not in the religious studies space), I know the author’s side of composing acknowledgments.

That said, I normally blow past the acknowledgment page quickly when I get a new book in my hands, but something told me to slow down a bit before getting to the “meat” of the content. What we have here is a suggestion that the traditional way Paul has been understood by Christian interpreters has, in some manner or fashion, contributed to the injury of the Jewish people, including the most glaring injury in recent history, the Holocaust. There have been two injustices committed by the “consensus view” of Paul which includes his letter to the Galatians: a gross misunderstanding of Paul himself and his missives to various First Century churches, and as a result of that misunderstanding, a terrible injustice to Jewish people across the last nearly two-thousand years of history.

That’s a heavy burden to place upon collective Christianity, but it’s not a burden that is undeserved, nor is it one that cannot be lightened. What is needed is a fresh reading of Paul from a First Century Jewish context.

While Nanos states in the book’s Prologue that he attempts to make no direct comparison between the Paul of Galatians and how Nanos depicted Paul in his previous book The Mystery of Romans, I don’t doubt that I’ll be making the comparison anyway, considering my several recent reviews of that work. After all, we are talking about the same human being, and unless Paul received a “personality transplant” between writing one letter and the next, he should be transmitting the same basic understanding of the role of Jews and Gentiles in the Jewish religious stream once known as “the Way.

Because the prevailing interpretations have probed Paul’s text without sufficient appreciation of the powerful role of ironic inversion at work, at the formal as well as functional level, the interpretation of the apostle’s scathing rhetoric has exaggerated and, regardless of other plans, continues to accentuate the differences that are imagined to separate Christian and Jewish identity, behavior, and even intentions toward God and neighbor. The legacy of this perception of the Jewish other has proven often tragic for the Jewish people, at least in a world that has been often dominated by those who look to Paul to shape reality, and for others, as a foil to justify their twisted construal of what is right.

-Nanos, Prologue, pg 2

This reads more like an indictment than, as Nanos puts it, a project that “represents a revised and expanded version of (his) Ph.D. dissertation…in 2000.” There’s a sense that Nanos has more invested in this project than simply a serious and scholarly re-investigation into the traditional interpretation of Paul relative to ancient and modern Christian and Jewish relationships and identities.

No interpretation is independent of context, that realized or assumed for the original author and audience, and that of the interpreter him-or herself. I am a product of many factors, not the least the long shadow of the Holocaust, which claimed so many Jewish people, my people, as well as exposure to critical tools now available to the interpreter.

ibid, pg 4

PaulNanos goes on in the Prologue to compare the “Consensus View” which he states has “not changed that significantly in the history of Christian interpretation” to his perspective which he calls “The Irony of Galatians,” characterizing Paul’s letter as an “ironic rebuke”. He challenges the consensus view of Paul as Law-free and in opposition to Jewish Law (Torah) and religiously obedient Jews, which is an interpretation of Paul’s message in Galatians that has been “undeniably colored by the interpreter’s understanding” rather than “producing a disinterested portrait” of the subjects of the letter, “considering their identity, motives, messages, or methods on their own terms.”

Of course, we have to consider that Nanos, in partially attributing Shoah and the murder of six million of his people to the traditional interpretation of Paul renders him less than completely objective, but then again as Nanos has already alluded, no one fails to bring something to the table when interpreting the Bible. In the book’s Prologue, Nanos leaves it up to the reader to determine if he has “constructed a probable context for interpretation of Paul’s voice…”

I know a fellow who is quite an erudite scholar and it is his opinion that more often than not, a book’s prologue may contain enough of the contents of the book itself to tell the entire story, sort of how some movie trailers give away most or all of the story of the films they are advertising. This may also be true of Nanos’ “Irony,” but not having cracked even the first page of the first chapter yet (as I write this), I’ll have to wait and see.

On the other hand, Nanos does reveal that he considers the “influencers” to also be Galatians and Jews who have a certain responsibility to initiate the Gentiles in the Galatian synagogues into their entry into Judaism. If these influencers were like those Jewish people we encounter in Acts 15:1-2, we may be seeing a heavy bias in the non-believing and believing Jewish communities in the days of Paul toward the proselyte ritual as the only means by which a Gentile may enter “the Way.” That makes Paul’s Galatian letter, according to Nanos, an “ironic rebuke” to the Gentile readers and an intra and inter-Jewish communal dispute between Paul and the Jewish influencers.

As I read in Nanos’ “Romans” book, he continues to depict Paul as Torah-observant, which only makes sense, given that Paul wrote that a Gentile being circumcised and converting to Judaism is obligated to the full yoke of Torah (Galatians 5:3). Being Jewish then, by definition, would mean that Paul considered himself as obligated to said “full yoke” of Torah in the same manner as his fellow believing and unbelieving Jews.

Paul is himself an example of status and observance, and his message in this letter does not abrogate the identity or observance of Torah for Jewish people (i.e. Israelites) in the least but is instead predicated upon their continued validity for himself and other Jewish members of this movement.

-Nanos, pg 9

The remainder of the prologue covered a summary of each of the three parts of the book and what the reader can expect to discover. What remains are the detailed arguments presented by the author, which I have yet to experience.

For the “Romans” book, I reviewed the material almost chapter by chapter in some cases, and I have a tendency to write book reviews in parts, often before I’ve completed my reading of the entire work. I don’t know if I’ll do that here since such an analysis takes a fair amount of time. On the other hand, it’s difficult in just a few sentences, to impart complex ideas and descriptions accurately when presented in a “book-length” form. Also, as much as I report for the sake of my audience, I write these blogs to process my own experience as I encounter new thoughts and concepts, so the level of detail in which I engage is sometimes more for me, the writer and learner, than it is for you the reader. Of course, my benefit is also your benefit as long as you don’t mind having to consume the output of my internal dialogue.

Mark NanosSince I’ve liberated myself from having to produce daily morning meditations, I can’t say when the next installment of my review on “Irony” will be written, but know, compulsive blogger that I am, that it will appear before too long. Galatians is one of my Biblical “pet peeves” along with the traditional Christian interpretation of Paul as either suffering from multiple personality disorder or as a liar and hypocrite.

I’m searching for an interpretation of Paul’s letters that renders him sane, internally consistent, consistent relative to his personal history as an observant Jewish Pharisee, and as a living expression of generations of Torah-observant Jews who came before him, worshiping the God of his fathers, obeying the Torah, and honoring the Temple, all within the context of a zealous faith in the Jewish Messiah. No other Paul makes sense, and a Paul (as the Christian consensus view defines him) who is mentally ill, a duplicitous liar, or a two-faced hypocrite makes the apostle completely disingenuous and an unreliable author of the majority of the canonized New Testament.

So much for the Christian faith if the consensus view is true.

I can only take Paul seriously if I can find another way to hear his voice. I believe I have found that sane and reliable Pauline voice. Now I want to see how that voice speaks in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.