Tag Archives: apostle Paul

Final Summary of The Mystery of Romans

up_to_jerusalemThroughout this study we have considered the contact of Paul’s apostolic ministry in the light of the two-step missionary pattern: “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16; 2:10). His opening and closing address indicate that Paul must reach Rome to bring them within the two-step pattern God had appointed for the restoration of Israel and the salvation of the world, regardless of the fact that some gentiles in Rome had already believed in the good news before many of the Jews in Rome had even heard it (Rom. 1;5-17; 15:14-33; Acts 28:14-23, 24ff). They were struggling because their faith lacked a proper foundation (it was not “established”:Rom 1:11) — and they were ignorantly supposing that their new position in salvation history involved supplanting Israel (11:1, 11-32).

-Mark Nanos
“Chapter 5: Paul’s Two-Step Pattern And The Restoration Of ‘All Israel'”, pg 237
The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters

As I write this, I’ve just finished reading this book, but before I move on, I want to offer my impressions and final summary of thoughts about what Nanos wrote. I realized that I’ve written a lot about this book so far, starting with Chapter One, the Nanos commentary on weak and strong, a presentation on the apostolic decree and how Paul applied it to the Gentile believers in Rome, as well as a comparison between Paul’s letter to Rome and his letter to the Galatians.

There’s a lot going on in this book but it rests on a few assumptions. It assumes that the Gentile and Jewish believers in Rome were regularly meeting in synagogues also commonly used by non-believing Jews. It assumes that non-believing Jews, believing Jews, and believing Gentiles all interacted with each other in these synagogues. It assumes that the Gentile believers thought, or were approaching the thought, that because of the grace of Christ and their freedom from Torah obligation, that the Torah was on its way out, along with a formal Judaism, and that the Gentiles would be supplanting the Jews in this religious stream.

Ironically, or should I say tragically, this last assumption has the ring of truth and indeed is exactly what has happened. It is also the prevailing thought in the Church today. We like to think a lot has changed in two-thousand years, but certain core ideas and prejudices haven’t gone away.

Nanos notes in Appendix 2 (pp 372-387) that there are some problems with the reading of Romans due to the edict of Claudius which suggests that all or most of the Jews were expelled from Rome during the relevant time period and that the Gentile Christians were meeting in small home churches, not Jewish synagogues. If this is true, then Nanos’ book falls apart. However, Nanos believes that the edict expired allowing the Jewish population to return to Rome or that perhaps not all of them were expelled (he estimates that the Jewish population of Rome at that time was between 20,000 and 50,000, which is a lot of people to move out).

I don’t have a historical background such that I can evaluate this issue, so I’m going to take it for granted (at this time) that Nanos is correct about his assumptions. I do however reserve the right to amend my opinion as more information comes my way.

In Chapter 5, Nanos continues to build his message that Paul’s letter to the Romans was a strong reminder to the Gentile Christians that they were under the authority of the apostolic decree and expected to exercise “obedience of faith” which would include restraining themselves from any behavior that would put a stumbling block in the way of their unbelieving Jewish co-participants in Roman synagogue life, and help them come to faith in Messiah.

The “two-step process” of Paul always first visiting the Jewish synagogue in any place he arrived at and then going to the Gentiles, was not just deference to the local Jewish population, but rather Paul’s and God’s plan of salvation. Jesus himself said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22), and Paul believed that when he arrived in Rome, he could provoke Jewish “jealousy” of his mission to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6), inspiring them to become part of Isaiah’s prophecy and God’s command.

But the door swings both ways. The Gentiles, by “obedience of faith” were to also “provoke” the non-believing Jews by revealing themselves as the “first fruits” of prophesy’s fulfillment:

On that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name, says the Lord who does this. (emph. mine)

Amos 9:11-12 (NASB)

prophetic_return1The Tanakh (Old Testament) is replete with prophesies of Gentile participation in the national restoration of Israel and the return of Jewish exiles in the diaspora to their Land, so this assumption on Nanos’ part is certainly reasonable. But the prophetic promise was in danger of not being fulfilled among the Jews in Rome because of the Gentiles assuming a position that elevated the nations and diminished Israel, the Jewish people, and particularly Jewish Torah observance, reversing what God has decreed.

Paul, in the context of 11:1-29, 30ff., clarifies that while part of Israel may have “stumbled” it is not “so as to fall” but in order that they will be provoked to jealousy as the gospel brings salvation to the gentiles in fulfillment of prophecies. It is for this very reason that Paul magnifies “his ministry” as the “apostle of Gentiles” (v. 13). He hopes it will “move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them” (v. 14). Paul frames the purpose of his apostolic ministry with the vivid contrast between the present “riches” that have come to gentiles through the “stumbling” of some of his brothers and sisters (who have not believed in Christ or in the salvation of these gentiles) and the unfathomable success that will be realized by both the Christian gentiles and Israel when the apostolic ministry has at last fulfilled its destiny (see Rom. 11:12, 15).

-Nanos, pg 248

Paul’s two-step process placed Jews and believing Gentiles in complementary roles, whereby they needed each other to fulfill the prophetic promise that would be culminated upon Messiah’s return.

David Rudolph and Joel Willitts commented on this complementary relationship in terms of modern Messianic Judaism more than once in their book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: It’s Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, and I used their material to comment to this point as well on my blog.

In Romans 11:18, Paul reminds the Christian Gentiles in Rome that the “root supports you” (Gentiles), not the other way around, thus, according to Nanos, Gentile salvation flows from Israel.

Rather than arrogantly assuming they have replaced fallen Israel, the gentiles are to recognize they must be servants of Israel’s salvation even as Paul is, for it is Israel’s success and not her failure that will bring the “revealing of the sons of God” for which the “creation” is anxiously longing (8:19).

-ibid, pg 255

Continuing to comment on Romans 11, Nanos says that the “mystery” is not if but how “all Israel will be saved” when it is stumbling.

I found Nanos less than completely revealing about who or what he thought “all Israel” was, whether a believing remnant of the Jewish people or miraculously, through the two-step process and the jealousy he provoked with his mission, literally all Israel would rise to become a light to the nations, as Paul had, and be the catalyst for a multi-national revival that would herald the return of Messiah.

tzitzitMany of my reviews of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series The Promise of What is to Come, including Exile and Redemption and Ingathering of Israel address the process of the people of the nations taking hold of the Jewish people in order to join with them in learning of the God of Jacob, and praying in the Temple of Israel, so again, this idea of mutual dependence and participation in Israel’s national redemption and the restoration of the world is not without support.

According to Nanos, Jewish “hardness” (Romans 11:7) will end when the Gentiles enter in their fullness (Romans 15:29).

Chapter 6, the final chapter in the book, will likely make some Christians feel uncomfortable since it addresses “Christian Obedience to Synagogue Authority” based on Romans 13:1-7:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

The usual Christian interpretation of these verses is as Paul’s general injunction for believers to be subject to governmental authorities as well as employers and the like. However Nanos notes that it is an odd contextual diversion from the themes before and after, and he suggests that Paul is actually talking about the local synagogue authorities, advising the Gentile believers who are in the synagogue as to their proper response to the synagogue leadership (and the taxes being mentioned would be the Temple taxes, collected in diaspora synagogues and sent to Jerusalem).

This brings up the interesting question about whether or not believing Gentiles should respond to non-believing Jewish leadership in a Jewish synagogue setting while believers and non-believers are worshiping God in a common Jewish context. Citing verse 1 in Romans 13, Nanos quotes Paul saying that the “governing authorities” derive their authority from God. Again, the Church interprets this as saying any authority on earth in any capacity was given that authority by God, but in this context, Paul is saying that synagogue authority is from God and should be responded to as such by the Gentile believers present.

This is going to make many Christian readers bristle, but it at least implies that God was not done with even the non-believing Jews and indeed still recognized them as Israel, as His chosen and called out people, perhaps (my interpretation) due to the Mosaic covenant. That would mean the Mosaic covenant was still in force and that the beginnings of the New Covenant which, linked with certain conditions of the Abrahamic covenant, allowed Gentile entry into Jewish religious space without the requirement of conversion, was all additive rather than the later covenant replacing the earlier one (see Galatians 3:18).

Paul in his letter to the Romans, as Nanos frames its overall theme, is desperately concerned with bringing the non-believing Jews into Messiah faith and he wrote a strong warning to the believing Gentiles not to act as a stumbling block by disregarding Jewish sensitivities of Gentiles in their midst, but instead to comply with “obedience of faith,” which Paul defined as the apostolic decree. The apostolic decree established a legal status for the Gentile believers somewhat like “permanent alien residents” within national Israel, and draws the reader’s attention to the following:

and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;
and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;
and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

Romans 15:9-12 (NASB)

To which Nanos responds:

Christian gentiles worshiping the One God in the midst of the congregation of Israel — my point exactly!

-Nanos, Chapter 6, pg 326

PaulPaul is urging the Gentile believers to take note of their position, their role, and their halachic status as “resident aliens” within the midst of corporate Israel, which here is the synagogue context in Rome.

Citing Romans 13:3-4, Nanos says that Paul did not believe the synagogue leaders were always right in their rulings (something of an understatement considering how many different leaders in many different synagogues in the diaspora had Paul thrown out, driven out, arrested, beaten, ridiculed, pursued, and so forth), but that they did have a right to administer their own religious and community space.

And there would be consequences for disobedience:

Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Romans 13:2 (NASB)

I was somewhat reminded of a paper written by Noel S. Rabbinowitz called Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and Does He Endorse Their Halakhah (PDF). I invite you to read the paper yourself, but in short, Rabbinowitz concludes that while Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees (or some of them) on a number of issues, he did recognize that they did have the legal authority to establish binding rulings upon those who operated within the Pharisaic realm.

The implication is that the synagogue leaders of Rome also had the same God-assigned authority even if they didn’t always use it wisely (this also speaks to later Rabbinic Judaism and the authority of the sages in making halachah).

Looking back on the book as a whole, does Nanos make his point? I think so for the most part. As a non-scholar in New Testament studies, I’m obviously operating with certain weaknesses, but the benefit I see from Nanos’ research is that he shows us a Paul that acts like a sane human being; one who is consistent with his message across time (as measured by what we see of him in Luke’s Acts and Paul’s various letters). This is a serious refactoring of our typical understanding of Romans, so it deserves careful consideration, however, Church tradition about this letter, having been established many centuries ago, has not been given a serious “shake up” until now. I’m sure it’s time.

Just because the Church has had a tradition that typically interprets Romans in a certain way doesn’t make that tradition correct, especially as it was formed out of a long history in Christianity desiring to disconnect Judaism in all its forms from the Church and to establish the ascendency of the Church over the Jewish people and Judaism.

This “new perspective on Paul” has merit and seems to fit a perspective where God does not break, fold, spindle, or mutilate any of his former promises to Israel for the sake of Gentile admission. Rather, the first advent of Messiah and the beginning inclusion of Gentiles as co-participants in salvation and the restoration of Israel creates a seamless continuation “between the two testaments” rather than a jarring “jumping tracks” from the “Old” to the “New.” This is what you’d expect of a creative, all-powerful, always truthful, and organized God.

Why the Jews in Thessalonica Were Jealous of Paul

Apostle Paul preachingThink of Paul in a city like Pisidian Antioch or Thessalonica. He goes into the synagogue where he speaks to a mixed audience of Jews and Gentiles. What? Jews and Gentiles? You bet. The synagogues of the first century had something in common with modern Messianic Jewish congregations. (No, I don’t mean they played Paul Wilbur songs, I mean there was a significant Gentile presence in the Jewish service).

Paul spoke to the “men of Israel” (Jews) and “you who fear God” (Gentiles) and “sons of the family of Abraham” (converts to Judaism, a.k.a. proselytes, no longer counted as Gentiles). Typically the God-fearing Gentiles were so ready for a message that would bring them closer to God and Paul’s news was well-received as God hearing their prayers at last.

-Derek Leman
“Paul Was Too Jewish for the Synagogue, Part 1”

I don’t really need another blog to follow, but Derek does mention AncientBible.net on his own blog from time to time, so I peeked in. And, of course, the title of his blog post was too interesting to resist.

Then I started reading what he wrote and it reminded me of my own recent church experience:

So when the question about “the jealousy of the Jews” came up and teacher said this caused “the Jews” to reject Paul’s message about Christ, I piped up and said, “Not all the Jews.” And things went downhill from there.

Even accepting that it was the Jewish leadership of the synagogue and not every individual Jewish person in attendance, one woman in class said that the leadership represented the people, pretty much painting all “the Jews” with a broad brush. Actually, I was thinking of the synagogue in Berea but I figured that I’d missed my window of opportunity in explaining my point and wasn’t going to get another one…that is unless I wanted to start a riot.

I’m not worried that my exposure to traditional Christian doctrine at church is going to change or warp my current opinions, but it was nice to read Derek’s blog post and see that New Testament scholars are discussing these issues and coming to conclusions that are similar to my own.

The genesis of this post was an unexpected adventure at SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) in November in Baltimore. My young friend, David Matthews, and I were there catching all the papers we could in our main fields of interest (his = the Temple, mine = Isaiah). But we couldn’t resist a few “Paul and Judaism” sessions. And one of them was like a Rock Festival of Pure Pauline Goodness . . . an unbelievable chance to hear Paula Fredriksen, Mark Nanos, Magnus Zetterholm, and Pamela Eisenbaum all in one room. It was one of the larger session rooms at SBL, probably with room for 400 people, and it was standing room only.

I know you don’t have to be impressed and certainly I’d like to explore the materials of Fredriksen et al in more detail (although I am reading Nanos’ book The Mystery of Romans right now), but it’s nice to know that “little ol’ me” in Southwestern Idaho isn’t completely off base. It’s easy to get that feeling when you’re the only one in your church who has such “goofy ideas” as Paul being “too Jewish” for the diaspora synagogues.

What is the biggest difference between Paul’s approach with Gentiles and the liberal, laid-back approach of the synagogues? Paul demands that Gentiles who enter into the congregation of Messiah Yeshua should abandon all honor to the gods. These are the last days. The Name of God will be one and the Lord will be king over all the earth (Zech 14:9). The Gentiles will be called by his Name (Amos 9:12). It is time to go up to the mountain of the house of the Lord and learn his ways (Isa 2:2-4). The eschaton (next age) is about to come with Yeshua’s return as the Divine Messiah who brings it all to pass.

CohenI had actually read (I think in Cohen’s From the Maccabees to the Mishnah) that the Gentile God-fearers in the late Second Temple era synagogues may not have entirely abandoned their devotion to the other “gods” in Greek and Roman culture. It presents them in a different light and maybe not as divorced from their pagan worshipping peers as is otherwise believed.

But Paul’s gospel was a kind of conversion, not making Gentiles into Jews, but bringing Gentiles into the covenant promises of Abraham, as citizens of Greater Israel but not Israelites, branches grafted into the Israel tree. And these Gentiles did not have to have their foreskins cut off, but they had to do something much harder — reject the family and city gods and become non-Romans.

This gives new meaning to the words of the Master:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.

Matthew 10:34-36 (NASB)

Since Jesus’ audience at that moment was Jewish, it’s easy to get the impression that he was only saying that believing (in Messiah) Jews would be rejected by their unbelieving (but still faithful to God) Jewish relatives, but when applied to what Derek wrote, the meaning expands to the experience of diaspora Gentile believers as well.

You see, Paul was too Jewish for the synagogue. He turned the world upside down. And he scared the be-Jesus out of the synagogues. Their liberal status-quo with Gentile adherents to the God of Israel had been working. They were good neighbors with the Greco-Roman city. But this crazy, end-times zealot who demanded that Gentiles forsake the city gods and worship one Lord other than Caesar, well, he was going to get the Jews in trouble by making them seem like bad neighbors. And Jewish blood would be spilt. Couldn’t Paul just be a little less like a Pharisee with his zeal for Torah and prophets?

Now let’s go back to the “problem text” I encountered last Sunday:

Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people.

Acts 17:1-5 (NASB)

And now, filter that through the paragraph of Derek’s I quoted just above. What were “the Jews” becoming jealous of? Could it be that they were jealous, not just out of concern that too many pagan Gentiles were invading Jewish religious space, but because Paul and his radical teaching of Messiah which included a more strict and absolute rejection of the pagan gods in the diaspora, was rattling too many cages and upsetting the status quo?

When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” hey stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them.

Acts 17:6-9 (NASB)

ThessalonicaViewing Acts 17 through the handy filter provided by Derek (and thanks to Paula Fredriksen, Mark Nanos, Magnus Zetterholm, Pamela Eisenbaum, and their presentation on Paul), the blurry, fuzziness of the image of the Jewish leadership of the synagogue in Thessalonica (that you see in Church teachings) and the motives for their jealousy comes into sharp focus.

Of course, this is just one short blog post and a very brief summary of what must have been a very rich and densely packed SBL conference session presented by some of the world’s most outstanding experts on Paul. How much can we read into it?

On the other hand, it’s also adding a link to an ever-strengthening chain of evidence that re-frames Paul as zealous for the Torah, zealous for the Messiah, and uncompromising in his devotion to God as a Jew. A man and a Jewish apostle who demanded no less of others what he expected from himself, especially in the rejection of any compromise with pagan gods and the lifestyle surrounding them.

No wonder Paul was always being beaten, jailed, and thrown out of town by both the Jewish and Roman establishments.

Looking forward to Part 2 of this series written by David Matthews.

The Mystery of Romans: Who are the “Weak” and the “Strong”?

Apostle-Paul-PreachesWelcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Romans 14:1-12 (NASB)

I’ve just finished reading the third chapter in the Mark D. Nanos book The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters. Yes, it did take me a long time and for two reasons. Nanos is quite erudite in his writing, packing each page densely with information. I have to take copious notes on all points of interest while I’m reading. Thus reading and writing while I’m reading makes for slow going.

But I’ve gotten through the eighty pages of “Chapter 3: Who Were the ‘Weak’ and the ‘Strong’ in Rome?” Hint: they aren’t who you think they are, at least according to Nanos.

But first things first.

There is almost universal agreement (it appears to be an almost unquestioned fact) that the “weak” were Christian Jews who still practiced the Law and Jewish customs (with most maintaining that this group would have included “God-fearing” gentiles as well), and that the “strong” were Christian gentiles (as well as Christian Jews like Paul who have supposedly abandoned Jewish practices).

-Nanos, Chapter 3, pg 87

Mark NanosIn my previous review of Chapter 1 of this book, I noted that Nanos takes a high view of Jewish Torah observance and a Gentile “Torah-respecting” lifestyle, meaning that, from a Pauline perspective (according to Nanos), Gentiles in the ancient Messianic Jewish communities were expected to support and uphold Jewish Torah observance while at the same time, conforming to the application of Torah to the Gentile believers as defined by the halakhic decision made by James and the Elders and Apostles in Acts 15 (which was probably supported and expanded by an oral teaching that accompanied the “Jerusalem letter,” the Didache being one possibility).

I mention this, because it must be taken into account in the current conversation, for this position is the template for everything that follows in Nanos’ analysis of Paul’s famous letter to the Romans.

Let’s cut to the chase:

Paul was not concerned with distinguishing between Christian Jews/gentiles who practiced (“weak”) or did not practice (“strong”) the Law and customs, with the hope that all would eventually abandon the Law and customers as they grew stronger in their faith in Christ. His concern was rather that all the non-Christian Jews (“stumbling” in faith toward Christ) in Rome would recognize that Jesus was the Christ of Israel, their Savior, and that they would thus believe in Christ and become Christians (“able” to have faith toward Christ) — Christian Jews. As Christian Jews they would indeed continue to be Jews in that they continue to practice the Law and Jewish customs in faith, not in order to justify themselves, but because they are Jews justified by the Jewish Savior/Messiah/Christ, thus joining with gentiles who are Christians in giving glory with “one accord” and thus “one voice” to the One Lord: “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:6).

-Nanos, pp 154-5

In order to make that explanation work, the believing Gentiles and believing Jews must share a common synagogue or synagogues in Rome with the non-believing Jews. This isn’t as incredible as you might think. Most people assume that whenever Jews and Gentile God-fearers came to faith in Messiah, they left the synagogue and formed their own house churches. Sometimes that was true, but not always. Nanos and the resources he cites (you’ll have to see the book for the entire bibliography) support the idea that the believing body of Jews and Gentiles in Rome remained in their synagogue communities once they came to faith.

ancient-torahFor the Jewish believers, this probably seemed like a no-brainer at the time, since coming to faith in Yeshua as Messiah in the mid-first century was not particularly strange, and it certainly didn’t mean that the believing Jew was converting to a different religion as it would mean today if a Jew came to faith in Jesus and started going to Church (and for Messianic Jews today, they remain within Judaism as did Paul and the other Jewish believers in the apostolic era).

Also, Gentile God-fearers were commonly found in diaspora synagogues and although they had no covenant status reconciling them with God (unless some pre-Rabbinic status of “Noahide” were conferred upon them), nevertheless, they had come to believe that the God of Israel was the God over all. Once these Gentiles came to faith in Messiah, their was no requirement that their worship practices should change for after all, they were disciples of the Jewish Messiah King. Where else should they be but among Messiah’s people Israel? In fact, James and the Apostles in Jerusalem made this very point:

Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.”

Acts 15:19-21 (NASB)

Once coming to faith in Messiah, in order to fully comprehend and practice his teachings, it was necessary to continue accessing his “source material,” which, according to the ruling of the Council, were to be found in the Torah and the Prophets.

Those Jews and Gentiles in the local Roman synagogues who came to faith while davening and worshiping within those communities would still be attached to those communities, to their friends, to the Rabbis. And since Yeshua-worship wasn’t inherently “non-Jewish,” Nanos suggests the believing Gentiles and Jews would have remained in their original synagogues.

Why should we care about this?

Because we have several populations co-mingling within a single religious and community setting: non-believing Jews, believing Jews, and believing Gentiles.

Now this next point is important. As Gentile God-fearers, the non-Jews who regularly attended synagogue would have been observing a set of behaviors that would allow them to co-participate in the community without violating the requirements of Torah observant Jews. They would eat the same foods, probably pray the same prayers or prayers modified for non-Jewish people, and otherwise not interfere with the Jewish “ascendency” in their own synagogue.

In other words, they wouldn’t make waves.

But once the God-fearers became believers and realized, through Paul as well as through the halakhic ruling of the Apostles, that they were not obligated to convert to Judaism and take on the full yoke of Torah but they were still fully equal co-participants in salvation and justification before God, they got a little cocky.

ancient_jerusalemIn Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the primary problem population (say that three times real fast) were “judaizers,” Jews or Jewish converts who were attempting to convince the Gentile population in the Galatian faith-communities that they had to convert to Judaism to be saved (and probably to re-enforce the idea among the Jewish population that being ethnically Jewish and Torah observant was what justified them before God, not faith in Messiah). The target population of Paul’s letter to Rome had the opposite problem: “gentilizers.”

The believing Jews wouldn’t bat an eye about continued Torah observance. For them, it would be a given, and of course, for the non-believing Jews in the synagogue, why should they change the observance given to them by their forefathers? But for the believing Gentiles, who didn’t have the same set of standards (although they definitely had standard of obedience as disciples), they started to “bug” the non-believing Jews about how now the believing Gentiles were “equal” without having to conform to the full body of Torah mitzvot.

And Paul was taking these Gentiles, the so-called “strong,” to task for disrespecting the “weak” who he felt in time, would also come to faith in Messiah. By their behavior, the Gentile believers were actually in danger of inhibiting Jews from coming to faith in their own Messiah (the parallels between this situation and the modern Christian Church are undeniable).

Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Romans 14:13-23 (NASB)

Nanos asks his readers to look at this passage in sort of the opposite direction than the way we’ve been taught. Also keep in mind that, just like the situation we see in Galatians 2, the issue is table fellowship and offensive treatment, not food. If your brother or sister (here, Paul has to be relating believing Gentiles to non-believing Jews as “brothers and sisters,” perhaps because they attend the same synagogue community) stumbles (in their faith) because you, as a Gentile, are not obligated to keep the kosher laws, you are no longer walking in love.

While the Gentiles were “mere” God-fearers, they were in a “one-down” position in the synagogue because of legal status and let’s face it, it is a Jewish synagogue. Once they became co-participants in salvation because of Abrahamic faith, the Gentile believers became a tad bit obnoxious to the non-believing Jews and stopped “walking in love.”

There’s a lot Nanos says about the halachah of “walking in love” and the two greatest commandments of Jesus (Matthew 22:36-40) that applies here. You can’t really love God if you are taunting your neighbor who is “weak” in faith and has not yet become reconciled to Messiah.

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.

Romans 9:2-3 (NASB)

stuart_dauermannPaul was desperate to share the “good news” to every Jew and he desired, above all else, that his own people should come to faith and redemption. So much so, that he was willing to surrender his own salvation if it would save some of his non-believing Jewish brothers and sisters. Clearly, Paul didn’t see himself, as a believing Jew, in any way disconnected from the larger community of non-believing Jews in Israel or the diaspora or national Israel as a whole. In other words, to reference Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, all Jewish people for Paul were Us, not Them.

I had a tough time with this chapter. I knew that Nanos was going to reframe the “weak vs. strong” argument in Romans 14, 15, but his build up to even stating his point took a long time. I finally had to jump back to the last pages of the chapter so I’d have some idea of what Nanos was getting at. Once I did, I found it easier to make it through the intervening pages.

According to Nanos, the “strong,” the believing Gentiles in the synagogue, should have known better than to try to “gentilize” the non-believing Jews and thus damaging relationships not only with them, but with the believing Jews who were also continuing to observe Torah and the Jewish customs. The Gentiles were cheapening their own “freedom” in Yeshua-faith by suggesting that the Torah devotion of non-believing Jews was a “weakness” on their part. However, Paul was actually saying that where they were weak was not in their faith in God and observance of the mitzvot, but their faith in Yeshua as Messiah. The Gentile “strong” were greater in that faith but ironically, they weren’t that strong either, for they became arrogant in their new status and in lacking love, I suspect they were also “weak” themselves.

Nanos makes such a complex argument, I don’t know that I can completely apprehend all of the nuances in just one reading, but I don’t really have the time to pour weeks more of study into a single chapter. The Mystery of Romans is such a compact container for such a large amount of data that I have no doubt I’ll have to read it a second time (or more) to tease out additional understanding and meaning. For now, I’m willing to entertain the idea that the “weak” and the “strong” can conform to an alternate meaning and in fact, they must if Paul is to remain consistent as a personality and in his theology throughout his letters and as depicted by Luke in Acts.

Addendum: Having just finished Chapter 4, a number of the points Nanos made about “weak” and “strong” are clearer, especially in relation to Gentile behavioral responsibilities toward Jewish people in general (both believing and non-believing). My next “meditation” on the Nanos book should be a great deal more coherent.

Where Romans and Galatians Meet: Analysis by Mark Nanos

Mark NanosBut when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Galatians 2:11-14 (NASB)

Table-fellowship, particularly in the context of gentile participation, was a significant concern among Diaspora Jews. The many laws and customs that made it necessary generally to separate from association in gentile meals, or from the eating of many gentile foods whether in the company of gentiles or not, made table-fellowship a notable issue. Jews often avoided meat and wine, for it was necessarily tainted by idolatry in Diaspora cities, unless special provisions had been made. However, Jews did eat with gentiles, given proper circumstances. And in the context of “righteous gentiles” attending synagogue this matter became a regular necessity.

Gentiles attending synagogue and participating in the lifestyle of the Jewish community, or visiting Jewish homes, were expected to adopt minimal Jewish practices. This behavior demonstrated respect not only for Jewish sensitivities, but in the mind of the Jews at least, it represented respect for the righteousness of God that would be expected to accompany the faith of the “righteous gentile” — for God is holy.

-Mark D. Nanos
“Chapter 2: The Historical Backdrop and Implied Audience,” pg 56
The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters

No, I haven’t stopped reading this book, but the demands on my discretionary time plus the dense commentary in the Nanos book have slowed me down considerably. I just finished Chapter 2 (as I write this) but decided to take a detour into “Summary and Appendix 1: Peter’s Hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-21) in light of Paul’s Anxiety (Rom. 7).” Given my lengthy and sometimes frustrating review of the Book of Galatians with my Pastor, I felt it necessary to get in some additional reading beyond Lancaster’s The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach (although it seems my conversations on Galatians have reached a premature end).

I must admit, I too have had a difficult time fitting “Peter’s hypocrisy” and Paul’s criticism into my overall understanding of Paul’s relationship with the Torah as a Jew and an Apostle of Messiah. In a little over thirty pages though, Nanos managed to clear things up for me. It never occurred to me to look at that passage from the point of view Nanos presents.

In the first part of Appendix 1, Nanos reviews the traditional interpretation of Galatians 2:11-21, that Peter had been living like a Gentile, that is, not observing a Torah or Jewish lifestyle and eating all manner of non-kosher food at the same table as the Gentile disciples in Antioch. Then Torah observant Jews from James came to visit, and as a result of peer pressure, Peter separated himself from the Gentiles and resumed a Torah lifestyle, inducing others including Barnabas to do likewise. Paul calls Peter out for his hypocrisy, that he could live a Torah-free life with the Gentiles one minute, and then, weakening to pressure applied by more traditional Jews, back off from his “freedom” from Torah and rejoin the “circumcision party.”

But Paul says something else in verse 14:

…how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

The Mystery of RomansWe tend to miss that part of the verse but it may hold the key to understanding everything Paul is saying about Peter.

But first, lets take a look at how Nanos describes a mixed Jewish/Gentile synagogue in the city of Rome:

That is, the early Roman Christian communities were functioning as subgroups within the larger synagogue communities at the time of Paul’s letter, and Paul hoped that they would hear (shema) his epideictic message in a manner that would enhance their adherence to righteousness and the worship of the One God of Israel as the One God of the world even before his arrival. They would then be found fulfilling the eschatological expectation of Israel: gentiles declaring the Shema in the midst of the congregation of Israel to the glory of God, the One God of all.

-Nanos, “Summary and Appendix 1: Peter’s Hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-21) in light of Paul’s Anxiety (Rom. 7),” pg 338

Nanos paints a portrait of Jews and Gentiles worshiping within a subset of larger Judaism and the larger Jewish synagogue community in Rome, with Jewish believers continuing to live Jewish lifestyles, including Torah observance, and Gentile believers living in respect of the Torah lifestyle of their Jewish mentors, and living within the behavioral constructs of the Noahide laws (Genesis 9) and the Apostolic Decrees (Acts 15). They enjoyed table fellowship with the Gentiles either consuming food totally acceptable to the Jewish believers or with the Jews restricting their diet to vegetables and water while sharing a table with gentiles.

So what’s Peter’s problem or for that matter, Paul’s? In the context of Galatians 2 not only does Paul say that Peter is living like a Gentile, but it is implied that Paul is too. Did both of these Jewish men apostate from Judaism and convert to Gentile Christianity? Like much of Christian doctrine teaches, did Christ turn Jewish believers into Gentiles?

The argument of the Church is that the disagreement is about food, that is, Peter was eating “trief” like a Gentile, having abandoned a kosher diet and presumably everything else about the Law. How like the misunderstandings most Christians have about Acts 10 and Peter’s vision. Was that about food, too?

I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.

Acts 10:34 (NASB)

peters-vision-doug-jaquesPeter’s vision is recorded by Luke in verses 9-16 and verse 17 testifies that Peter did not know what the vision meant. We see that Peter finally figured it out by verse 34. The vision wasn’t about food, it was about equality. God was telling Peter that the Gentiles had equal access to justification before God through faith, just as the Jews have. He even testifies of that equality in a legal hearing in Jerusalem some time later (See Paul on Trial by John W. Mauck for more detailed information about the nature of the legal hearing in Acts 15):

And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.

Acts 15:8-9 (NASB)

On pages 342-3 of his appendix, Nanos says this about the Church and Galatians 2:

The traditional assumption is of course that Paul opposed Peter in Antioch because of Peter’s change of behavior with respect to food.

But just as food wasn’t the issue in Acts 10, neither is it the issue in Galatians 2 according to Nanos.

Nanos goes on to say that if the traditional Christian interpretation of these verses is correct, then Paul had to have been saying there are no Jews in Christ, because to set aside the Law and live like Gentiles would make the Jewish believers no longer Jews. There would be only Gentiles (born Gentiles and formerly Jewish Gentiles) in Christ.

This contradicts the Bible on so many different levels it makes my head spin (although even an apostate Jew is still Jewish…you can’t become “unJewish”). You’d have to completely ignore all of the Messianic prophesies in the Tanakh (Old Testament) to make that interpretation work.

As already mentioned, the traditional interpretation of Paul’s rebuke of Peter turns on the issue of food. Although the balance of the letter is read with respect to the issue of justification by faith in Christ, and the explicit use of justification language in Galatians is concentrated around this incident, yet the traditional interpretation obscures the focus on justification in verse 14. I suggest that the language of Paul’s rebuke centers on the same justification language as the surrounding context, namely the position of one justified, that is, living “in Christ” by faith, whether “Jews by nature” (“even we” of 2:16) or “gentile sinners,” as equals. It is thus Peter’s withdrawal, not food, that is at issue in Antioch; what was eaten or how it was eaten was not the reason for Peter’s withdrawal. The issue entirely concerned those with whom he had been eating and then withdrawn; his exclusion of gentiles was because they were gentiles, not because they ate offensive food or in offensive ways.

-Nanos, pp 347-8

Apostle-Paul-PreachesGalatians 3:28 famously declares that there are no Greeks or Jews, no men or women, no slaves or freemen, but all of them are one in Christ. But just as women don’t have to turn into men to become saved in Messiah, neither do Gentiles have to turn into Jews or Jews turn into Gentiles to become disciples of Messiah. The “oneness” is as equal co-participants in the community with equal access to justification and the blessings of God.

What Peter was doing was indeed responding to peer pressure and as a result withdrawing from close association from the Gentile disciples, but it had nothing to do with Peter’s eating habits or Jewish vs. Gentile lifestyle. His hypocrisy had to do with accepting Gentiles as co-participants previously, and then treating them like second-class citizens by withdrawing from them when Jews from James showed up.

The issue of Galatians 2:11-21 was the same issue as the rest of the book of Galatians: Gentiles do not have to become circumcised and convert to Judaism, taking on board the full yoke of Torah in order to be justified before God and equal co-participants in the community of faith. Look at verse 14 again:

…how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Peter was putting up the dividing wall that Paul was trying so hard to break down by saying Jews had a superior position in Christ and in justification and that only by compelling the Gentile disciples to live like Jews (convert to Judaism) would they be saved, undoing all of the blessings of Christ upon the world.

No wonder Paul was furious. Peter just slapped him and all of the Gentile disciples in the face by his withdrawal and worse, he compelled other faithful Jewish disciples, including Barnabas, to do the same.

Nanos wrote this appendix because of the apparent conflict, especially in light of his interpretation of Romans, between Romans 7 and Galatians 2. I’m only summarizing what he has to say. To get all of the details, you’ll need to read the Nanos book.

In Romans, Paul is encouraging Torah observance for the Jewish believers and respectfulness for the Torah and for Jewish observance from the Gentiles. However, much of Galatians, including Galatians 2, seems to contradict this. Nanos wrote this summary and appendix to set the record straight, or at least to give his readers something to think about.

Hopefully, this has given some of my readers something to think about as well.