Throughout 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).
“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)
The 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.
Many 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”;
“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
Paul 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.