Tag Archives: Galatians

Galatians, Adoption, and Unity vs. Division

worldI took Mom to church for the first time in a while. She turned 90 last month and her Alzheimer’s isn’t going to get better, but as long as I’m with her and we take her walker, she’s okay.

The pastor gave a sermon on Galatians, which was the typical sermon on Galatians for the most part (and believe me, I’ve had plenty of experience struggling with that epistle).

He did say a few different things though. The first was that he and his wife adopted three sisters, which I thought was terrific. So many of the opponents of Christianity, particularly those who are “pro-choice” complain that while Christians want to save lives from being aborted in the womb, we don’t care about what happens to kids afterwards. Adoption is one of the ways to care for kids afterwards.

The other thing he said had to do with identity, and yes, he brought up (among other things) gender identity. Of course he also brought up law vs. grace as if non-Jews could ever have been “under the law” in the first place, but I set that aside because I’m way past arguing about it.

But then:

Continue reading Galatians, Adoption, and Unity vs. Division

Nanos, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem with Peter

Paul told the Galatians of a time in Antioch when he “condemned” Peter “to his face” for failing to “walk straight toward the good news.” He attributed Peter’s change of mealtime behavior to a hypocritical effort to escape pressure from “the ones for the circumcision” (Gal 2:11-21). For before “certain ones came from James,” Peter “was eating with the Gentiles” but afterwards he “drew back and separated himself.

-Mark D. Nanos
“What Was at Stake in Peter’s ‘Eating with Gentiles’ at Antioch?” pg, 282 (pages 282-318) in The Galatians Debate. Edited by Mark Nanos. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002.

So begins Nanos’ article on a topic I’ve been exploring recently, the Messianic community of Jews and Gentiles in the “Synagogue of the Way” in first century CE Syrian Antioch, and more specifically, what is known as “the Antioch Incident” which involved the activity chronicled by the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:11-21.

While this article was included as a chapter (fifteen) in the book The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, it also functions as a stand-alone paper which we can examine and from which we may be able to draw certain conclusions.

I’ve covered this material in two previous blog posts, both based on chapters from Magnus Zetterholm’s book The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity (See Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch and Today’s Messianic Judaism and Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem of the Gentiles). There is only one more chapter left in the Zetterholm book, which describes his perspective on the split between the Jewish and Gentile groups within the Messianic Antioch ekklesia (and ultimately all believing communities of that era), but someone suggested that I might want to review the Nanos paper on this topic first, since it may provide some clarification as to the actual problem between Paul and Peter as related to Gentile community and social status in this Jewish religious stream.

What Was at Stake in the Antioch Incident?

Nanos defines two “interpretive elements” that are “central for determining what was at stake” in “Peter’s eating or not eating with these Gentiles (pg 283):”

  1. What did the ones for the circumcision, whom Peter feared, find so objectionable about Peter’s eating with Gentiles?
  2. What did Paul find so objectionable about Peter’s decision to withdraw and separate from these mixed meals?

Keep in mind all this is from Paul’s point of view, so we don’t have the perspectives of Peter, the other Jewish believers (and unbelievers?) present, and particularly the Gentiles who were impacted by the incident.

According to Nanos, there are three possibilities as far as what the “ones advocating circumcision” could have found objectionable or offensive about Peter eating with the Jesus-believing Gentiles:

  1. The food served was objectionable according to Jewish dietary norms.
  2. Peter was violating halachah in even eating with Gentiles at all, even though the food was acceptable.
  3. It was the way Peter was eating with these Gentiles, rather than having a meal with them as such (and with the food being acceptable).

In trying to select an appropriate response, we also have to take Paul’s reaction into consideration. Which of these circumstances was most likely to elicit his offense and outrage and why?

Traditionally Paul has been understood to be upset because he maintained that faith in the gospel obviated continued regard for eating according to Jewish dietary regulations. But for Paul, did observing a Jewish diet compromise in principle “the truth of the gospel”? Or did he perhaps object instead to the degree of Jewish dietary rigor necessary to comply with the standards of those whom Peter feared? Or again, in a different direction, could it be that Paul understood that Peter’s withdrawal and separation undermined the identity of the Gentiles as equals while remaining Gentiles?

-Nanos, pg 284

At the church I currently attend (and I suspect at most or all Evangelical churches just about everywhere), it is assumed that the first and traditional Christian interpretation is obviously correct. Jesus canceled “the Law” including kashrut and Peter was eating ham sandwiches and shrimp scampi with his Gentile buds until other Jews who were “still under the Law” showed up and embarrassed Peter. Peter caved in to peer pressure and pulled away from eating trief with the goyim. Clearly for Evangelicals, the issue at hand was the food.

But before we get into whether this is actually supported by scripture or not, we need to identify the players. I used to think there were only two interest groups outside of Paul, Peter, Barnabas, and of course, the Gentiles present:

  1. The “certain men from James” who represented the “party of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12 NASB).
  2. The rest of the Jews (Gal. 2:13 NASB) who “joined him (Peter) in hypocrisy.”

However, Nanos draws a distinction between the Jewish men from James and the advocates of circumcision as representing two different groups of Jews. Paul obviously knew the particulars and presumably, so did the intended audience of his epistle (Gentile believers in the Messianic synagogues in the area of Galatia), but because that understanding was assumed, this narrative doesn’t contain a lot of information to help us figure out who’s who.

Antioch Rubens“The rest of the Jews” probably isn’t a terribly significant group, according to Nanos. They could be local Jesus-believing Jews, or Jews who accompanied Peter from Jerusalem/Judea to Antioch (Peter’s personal disciples?).

More critical to grasp are the two other groups. From verse 12, the Greek describing the contingent from James is best translated, again according to Nanos, as ”certain/some ones came from James,” (pg 286) but doesn’t absolutely delineate whether James actually sent them or if they came from James but weren’t specifically his representatives.

This is important because in my previous blog posts citing Zetterholm, it was thought that Paul and James disagreed about the status of Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish community and even that James advocated for a total “bilateral” separation of Jewish and Gentile believers, while Paul supported covenant and social inclusion. It makes a difference if James sent this group to “spy out” the doings in the Antioch synagogue vs. this group was associated with James but didn’t directly represent his views.

The third group (pp 286-7), the ones Peter was actually afraid of (I guess this would mean he wasn’t afraid of the group from James), is simply identified as “circumcision” (Jews) as opposed to “foreskinned” (Gentiles). Why did Paul call this third group only “circumcision?” What did he mean? Were they believing or non-believing Jews?

It would seem odd, at least to me, for Paul to call this Jewish group “circumcision” in order to differentiate them from believing Jews (although according to one Pastor I’ve spoken with who represents the traditional Christian viewpoint, Paul was advocating against believing Jews becoming circumcised, though this should have happened when they were eight-days old, or having their male children circumcised). In Galatians 3:28, Paul wrote that Jews and Greeks are all “one in Christ” but he still differentiates Jews and Greeks, even as he differentiates men and women “in Christ.”

This would mean (and Nanos speaks of this on pg 287), that Paul and Peter self-identified as “Jews by birth” (v. 15…also see Rom. 9:3-5, 11:1; Phil. 3:3-5, and by inference, 1 Cor. 7:17-20), thus a Jew becoming a disciple of Messiah Jesus (Yeshua) did not remove the status of “Jew” from the Jewish person. In other words a Jesus-believing Jew and any other Jew are both considered Jews, with no distinction relative to their ethnic or (Sinai) covenant status. So Paul and Peter are just as Jewish as any other Jewish individual. Being called “circumcision” is only to differentiate Jews from the “foreskinned” Gentiles.

Citing Dunn (Dunn, “Echoes,” 460-61; see also, Dunn, Theology, 123, where he cites Rom 4:12; Col 4:11; Titus 1:10), Nanos states (pg 288):

…but an interest group specifically distinguished from other groups of circumcised Jews as advocates of circumcision.

And further:

Given the rhetorical context dealing with Gentile associates, the likely connotation of this particular advocacy is proselyte conversion.

The “circumcision” then are a group of Jews (believing or non-believing) who advocate for Gentiles in the Jewish religious space to gain equality with the “Jews by birth” only through the proselyte rite which includes circumcision.

This group represented the dominant viewpoint of Jewish communal norms (see Acts 15:1) relative to full Gentile inclusion in Jewish religious/communal space. Gentile God-fearers were attendees or guests in that space but were hardly considered of equal status to Jews in the synagogue and in Jewish society at large and they absolutely were not included in covenant.

fellowshipNanos presents what appears to be a new perspective (from an Evangelical Christian point of view) regarding the issue at hand. Paul considered the believing Gentiles as having equal status in the Jewish “Way,” both in terms of social status and covenant blessings, while still remaining Gentiles. In fact, Paul required that the Gentiles retain their status as Gentiles lest “Christ be of no benefit” to them (Galatians 5:2).

The problem was not food, and it was not a general ban of Jews eating with Gentiles (since in diaspora communities, the halachah for such mixed-meals would have to allow for some social intercourse), but rather non-proselyte believing Gentiles being treated as social and covenant equals within the Jewish community.

Nanos refers to v. 13 in terms of Peter and the other Jews as “masking their true conviction,” which will be seen as significant because:

Therefore, the Christ-believing Jews try to mask their convictions that these Gentiles are not regarded among their subgroups as mere “pagan” guests, but at the same time not as proselyte candidates either, by withdrawing from eating with Gentiles to distance themselves from meals symbolizing this nonconforming “truth.”

-ibid, pg 289

The “nonconforming truth” is that, through faith in Messiah, the Gentiles are considered equal co-participants in Jewish covenant and community while remaining Gentiles and with no intention of them ever participating in the proselyte rite. Something about the way Peter was eating with the Gentiles, indicated to outside Jewish observers, that Peter and the Jews with him considered the believing Gentiles as social/covenantal equals to the Jews, something that non-Jesus-believing Jews (or maybe Jesus-believing Jews from a different faction) found offensive and unsustainable.

Peter’s hypocrisy then, was pretending the Gentiles did not have equal social standing with the Jews of the Way when just previously, he had been eating with them as equals. Peter then included Barnabas and other Jews in his hypocrisy when his example resulted in their following his lead.

Nanos supports something that I’ve believed for a while now. The “offense of the cross” for non-believing Jews wasn’t Jesus himself, but rather Paul’s insistence that Jesus-believing Gentiles be included in the Jewish community as equal co-participants while remaining Gentiles.

Apostle Paul preachingA classic example of this occurred at Pisidian Antioch. In Paul’s first appearance and “sermon” there on Shabbat, the Jews and Proselytes were quite interested in Paul’s message of the good news of Messiah and wanted him to return the following Shabbat to say more (Acts 13:43). However, the following Shabbat, it was apparent that the Gentile God-fearers, present the previous week, had “spread the word” to their Gentile families and friends, most likely not God-fearers, but “straight up” pagans and idol worshipers, because “crowds” of Gentiles showed up at the synagogue (v. 45) resulting in “jealousy” among the synagogue leaders, and with them responding to Paul with “blasphemy” and evicting Paul and his companions from the synagogue and the entire district.

Getting back to the two groups, the ones from James and the advocates of circumcision for Gentiles, Nanos states that we don’t know how they are related or what the timing of the arrival of the first group has to do with the presence of the second group. It could be a coincidence, but in the Bible, I tend to think there is no such critter.

That describes a great deal about the situation but doesn’t answer the question about what was at stake in Peter eating with and withdrawing from the Gentiles at Antioch.

J.B. Lightfoot argues that before the withdrawal Peter “had no scruples about living [like a gentile],” that is, without observing Jewish dietary restrictions (“discard Jewish customs”), for the vision of Acts 10 “taught him the worthlessness of these narrow traditions.” Lightfoot assumes that this change is the logical result of the desire to “mix freely with the Gentiles and thus of necessity disregard the Jewish law of meats.”

-ibid, pg 293

This is an example of the traditional Christian interpretation of the matter, but as I’ve stated here and in many other blog articles, this just doesn’t jibe with the overall presentation of Paul relative to the Torah as well and Jewish and Gentile status, and it certainly is inconsistent with Messiah’s interpretation of his own mission in terms of continued Torah observance by believing Jews (Matthew 5:17-19).

Nanos presented examples of the opinions of other New Testament scholars who support the traditional view and then more “recent trends in interpretation.”

As E.P. Sanders makes exceptionally clear, there is no reason to believe that observant Jewish people and groups did not eat with Gentles given the right conditions.

-ibid, pg 296


There is no reason to believe that many, if not most, observant Jews, certainly those living in the Diaspora, would not and did not eat with Gentiles without compromising their Jewish dietary norms to do so.

-ibid, pg 297

However, other Jewish groups may have feared that such mixed meals between Jewish and Gentile “equals” would somehow lead to Jews ”eating of inappropriate food according to Jewish dietary norms, inclusive of the food and drink associated with idolatry.”

shared wineThere has been some support of the idea that God-fearing Gentiles remained polytheistic (M. Zetterholm, S.J.D Cohen), probably as a convenience since they had to continue to interact with individuals, groups, and businesses that were part of the diaspora pagan cult. If Jews witnessed other Jews and Gentiles eating (kosher food and wine) together as equals, they may have assumed that this represented a significant risk, based on their experience with and understanding of God-fearers. The only way they could be reasonably sure that such mixed meals weren’t “risky” was if the Gentiles involved were participants in the proselyte rite. The Jewish observers objecting to mixed meals didn’t “know,” they just assumed what was going on.

Nanos says Paul’s reference to the “truth of the gospel,” to which the circumcision advocate objected, was the way Gentiles were treated by Jews at the mixed meals, that is, the Gentiles were treated as full equals in the Jewish subgroup.

It pronounced these Gentiles full members of the people of God apart from the traditional conventions for rendering them such. Thus the pressure is specifically said to be from “advocates of circumcision.” And the reaction of Peter and the other Jews was to “withdraw” and “separate” in order to “hide” their conviction with behavior that does not exemplify “the truth of the gospel,” instead of dismissing the Gentiles as though they agreed in principle with those who brought the pressure…

ibid, pg 301

But what about this?

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 2:14 (NASB)

The issue of Peter “living like a Gentile” is traditionally assumed to mean that Peter gave up a life of Jewish Torah observance, including keeping the laws of kashrut, and felt free to live life as a Gentile, eating and drinking pretty much anything with disregard of Jewish norms. Also, and this is less clear in Christian thinking, Peter was somehow compelling the Gentiles present to live like Jews.

In Peter’s withdrawal and separation from the Jesus-believing Gentiles present, he was indicating that Gentile status in the Jewish ekklesia was not equal after all and that, by appearing to side with the Jewish circumcision advocates, he was implicitly saying that for the Gentiles to be considered equal, they had to participate in the proselyte rite and become Jews (compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews). This was Peter’s hypocrisy, because he actually believed the Gentiles were already equal co-participants due to their discipleship in Christ.

Did Peter compromise his Jewish identity by eating with the Gentiles (living like a Gentile)? The issue at hand relates to identity, both Jewish and Gentile:

The question before these Gentiles, as Paul sees the matter, is one of identity, not behavior per se, although it is Peter’s change in behavior — because of his desire to maintain the privileges of identity on terms that no longer should dictate behavior of members of this coalition — that provoked the incident around which Paul constructs his case.

-Nanos, pg 311

Peter and accusersPeter wasn’t “living like a Gentile” in the sense that he had abandoned his Jewish identity and affiliation, but he was behaving in a manner that was not dependent on absolutely separating himself from equal co-participation in the ekklesia, including mixed Jewish/Gentile meals, in order to maintain and affirm his Jewish identity. Jews and Gentiles could maintain distinct identities and yet, in terms of social behavior, they could be co-equals in fellowship within the Messianic Jewish ekklesia.

Peter’s behavior, when seen by Jewish outside observers, was criticized as violating Jewish social norms and thus Jewish identity (living like a Gentile) by the circumcision party, but they were unaware or they didn’t accept the new status of the Gentiles relative to Jewish community.

Nanos adds dimension to this by re-translating the relevant scripture in this way:

If you Peter, remain Jewish yet are identified now as a righteous one (justified) in the same way as are these Gentiles (by faith in/of Christ) and not by virtue of the fact that you were born a Jew, how can you decide to behave in a way that implies that these Gentiles are not your equal unless they become Jews too?

-ibid, pg 315

The mindset required here is a shift from Jewish privilege as justified by being born Jewish, to justification through faith in/of Christ in exactly the same manner as the Gentiles.

I found the following quote revealing:

The salient difference is the claim of this subgroup to live “in Christ” as equals before God and one another, as “one,” whether Jew or Gentile. Claiming that the end of the ages has dawned, this coalition seeks to exemplify this “truth” by living together without discrimination according to certain prevailing conventions of the present age (cf. 1:3-4; 3:27-29; 6:14-16).

-ibid, pg 316

I’ve mentioned previously, citing D.T. Lancaster (see the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermons and What About the New Covenant lectures), that the Messianic Age or Kingdom was inaugurated with the death and resurrection of Christ but will not be brought to fullness until the return of Messiah as conquering King. In the meantime, we believers, Jewish and Gentile, have received a “downpayment,” or a “guarantee” that the Messianic promises of the New Covenant will indeed reach fruition in their appointed time.

We are to live like partisans or freedom fighters resisting the current “King” in the present age, and living as if the “once and future King” were already here.

That’s what the mixed meals between Jewish and Gentile co-participants in the ekklesia as equals represents.

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…

Matthew 8:11 (NASB)

This is one picture of the Messianic Kingdom, when we Gentiles will indeed ”come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom.” That’s what was at stake in the Antioch incident, the recognition and acceptance of Gentiles as equal co-participants in the coming Kingdom which has yet to arrive but is already here.

When Peter pulled away from the Gentiles and caused other Jesus-believing Jews to do likewise, he was sending a clear signal (whether he intended to or not) that the Gentiles were not equal, and he was actually denying the “truth of the gospel,” the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Messiah, and the reign of Messiah over Israel and the nations of the Earth in peace and unity.

Peter, in one simple but devastating act, denied that God had to power to bring about all He promised in the New Covenant times. No wonder Paul was so furious.


What I’ve gotten from Zetterholm so far is that in mid-first century CE in Antioch, and presumably influencing the rest of the Messianic communities (the “churches” Paul had “planted”), there was a dynamic “tension” between Paul and James, with Paul advocating for Jesus-believing Gentiles being included into the Jewish ekkelsia as equal co-participants socially and in covenant blessings, while James strongly thought the Gentiles should maintain their own separate and bilateral communities apart from the Jesus-believing Jews. This tension in my reading of Zetterholm so far, was never resolved, and the result was the ultimate schism between the Gentiles and Jews in the community of believers.

The Jewish PaulNanos doesn’t paint quite so grim a picture, but he’s writing while strictly considering only Paul’s perspective in Galatians 2. The ones from James may have had something to do with the Antioch incident, but Nanos believes the ones Peter actually feared were a separate group, a group of believing or non-believing Jews who advocated Gentile inclusion in Jewish religion and fellowship only by circumcision and participation in the proselyte rite.

Paul continues as the advocate for Gentile inclusion which he sees as a sign of the emergent Messianic Kingdom symbolized by Jews and Gentiles sharing meals as equals rather than the Gentiles being subordinate in the Jewish space, either as pagan guests or God-fearers. Peter’s withdrawal punched a really big hole in the structure Paul was trying to construct, a portrait, an image of the future age coming into the world now. Peter not only rejected Gentile equality in the ekklesia, he denied the power of God to bring about unity in the Kingdom to come.

What implications can we draw for the modern Messianic Jewish (MJ) movement. The current MJ movement exists as separate or interrelated streams with different standards of Torah observance, halachot, and particularly, different viewpoints on Jewish/Gentile community interaction and participation.

Many of the questions Paul was addressing are the same issues we find in MJ today. For the most part, communal meals aren’t an issue, since in the communities in which I’ve participated, either kosher meals are available prepared and served in accordance with accepted Jewish halachah, or kosher meal requirements have been loosened (for instance, the elimination of the requirement that said meals must be prepared in a kosher kitchen) to allow for mixed Jewish/Gentile (kosher or kosher-style) meals.

However, the issue of bilateral ecclesiology very much continues to be at the forefront of the debates regarding Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish community. Should Messianic Jewish synagogues only allow Jewish membership or should Gentiles be included? If Gentiles are included as members in Jewish religious space, should they be considered equals (as Paul likely advocated) or should they have a lesser status (associate membership) with lesser privileges and responsibilities? Should non-Jewish kids participate in a Bar/Bat Mitzvah? Can Gentiles be called up for an aliyah to read the Torah on Shabbat? What about Gentiles being included or excluded from davening in a minyan?

We have no record in the Bible of these questions being answered, but we do, at least in my opinion, have strong indications, both Biblically and through historical records, that Gentiles did participate in Jewish communal life in diaspora synagogues. They did eat together as equal co-participants.

Taking all of this into account, where does the modern Messianic Jewish movement go from here and what part do we “Messianic Gentiles” play in it?

I hope to finish my final review of Zetterholm soon.

What Galatians Means to Christians Today

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Acts 15:1 (NASB)

Also, in the eyes of most Jews, the statement of Acts 15:1 seemed incredibly obvious. One does not come to Hashem except through Judaism.

-from Book Review: The Irony of Galatians

Even after I publish a particular blog post, I tend to obsess over it a little bit, searching for typos, finding a sentence that could be improved, that sort of thing. I try to do all this editing beforehand, but sometimes things slip by.

That includes the above-quoted statement. Today, religious Judaism is adamant that of the three monotheistic faiths in existence, they do not require others to convert to their religion in order to merit a place in the world to come. You can be a righteous Gentile and in obedience to the Noahide laws, you can have a place in the coming Kingdom. No need to actually convert to Judaism at all.

I realized that even in the days of the Apostle Paul, this was also true in some sense. It’s been suggested that some version or variation of what we call the “Noahide laws” today existed back then and was the operational guide for God-fearing Gentiles who populated the diaspora synagogues alongside the Jews and proselytes.

But I can only imagine that being a first-century God-fearer and seeing the awesome beauty of the Torah, watching Jewish men davening in a minyan, experiencing the joy of just hearing the prayers in Hebrew, contemplating the amazing link that each Jewish person had to thousands of years of the history of God’s interaction with Israel all the way back to Moses must have been an incredible lure. How many God-fearing Gentiles in response to their time in the synagogue started down the road of the proselyte ritual that culminated in converting to Judaism, so that they could say “My Fathers” rather than “their Fathers?”

I’ve been looking at Mark Nanos’ book The Irony of Galatians as it impacts my view of the actual epistle written by Paul and its intent toward the believing populations in the area of Galatia in that day. But what impact does it have on Gentile believers who worship among Jews today?

I’m specifically thinking of Messianic Jewish congregations, those few of which I’m aware that are “owned and operated” so to speak, by halakhic and observant Jewish people who are disciples of Yeshua as Messiah. What is it like to be a Gentile, a fully equal co-participant in Jewish worship and community life, and yet not to be Jewish?

For that matter, what is it like to be a Gentile believer in one of the variations of Hebrew Roots community life, be attracted to Jewish practice and the Torah, but find that the vast majority of people around you only have a so-so understanding of what that means and especially how to properly practice a Judaism (this isn’t absolutely true of all Hebrew Roots groups, but it is true of the majority of those I’ve personally experienced)?

A non-trivial percentage of those Gentiles have left either Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots and like some of the first century God-fearing Gentiles, proceeded with the proselyte ritual, usually within Orthodox Judaism, and converted to that identity and that faith.

They too have missed the warning that Paul was issuing to his Gentile addressees in his letter to the Galatians and allowed themselves to “desert Him who called them by the grace of Christ for a different gospel, which is really not another gospel at all.”

In a Jewish or Jewish-like worship venue, especially with the involvement of traditional Jewish worship, study, and community practices, it can be easy for some folks to confuse Judaism for faith.

That was the point of Paul saying in Galatians 2:3 that Titus, a Greek who came to faith in Yeshua, specifically wasn’t compelled to be circumcised (convert to Judaism). It’s why Paul cited Genesis 15:6 as recorded in Galatians 3:6 that it was by Abraham’s faith God reckoned to him as righteousness before Abraham was circumcised.

PaulAccording to most New Testament scholars, Paul likely wrote his letter to the Galatians before the events recorded in Acts 15 so it could appear that Paul was very much “shooting from the hip,” because the formal halakhic ruling regarding the legal status of Gentile Yeshua-believers within the Jewish worship and community context of “the Way” had not yet been issued. But Paul’s authority and assignment as the emissary to the Gentiles came directly from Messiah in a vision as we have preserved for us in Acts 9. If we can depend upon anyone to understand who the Gentiles were to be as worshipers of Messiah among the Jews, it is Paul.

His letter was a response to the confusion and dissonance that was occurring between believing Gentiles and non-believing Jews (this is according to Nanos in his “Irony” book) in the Jewish communities in the region of Galatia. The synagogue was the only proper setting for the new Gentile believers to learn Torah and thus begin to understand the teachings of the Master, and this decision was eventually confirmed in the words of Acts 15:21. But while being a Gentile God-fearer was most likely a reasonably well-defined role, being a Gentile believer of the Jewish Messiah was not, especially to those Jews who did not share in that faith and quite possibly for some who did (see Acts 15:1).

Several of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermons in the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series address a very simple message of the writer of Hebrews to his Jewish audience in Jerusalem. The message says to pay attention to what we have learned and not to drift away from our faith in Messiah, lest we grow cold in faith and distant from the lover of our souls. That distance can make us mistake who really loves us and like the addressees of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we may think Judaism is our goal rather than Messiah, the living Word of God.

The traditional Christian interpretation of Galatians (I know I’m over-simplifying it) is that Paul was attempting to convince both believing Gentiles and believing Jews that the “Law was dead” and replaced for everybody by only faith in Christ Jesus, inventing a new identity in the Jewish Messiah for one and all, and eliminating Jewish identity for Jews entirely. That’s very much like throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Looking at the letter as Nanos sees it, it’s a cautionary tale specifically to the Gentiles not to confuse Jewish Torah observance and community life for the practices that accompany a Gentile faith in Messiah. Yes, many of the blessings and observances are identical for Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master, but the identities are not. This is a warning we can heed today, especially those of us who though not Jews are still attracted to Jewish studies, the Torah, the Talmud, and the wisdom of the sages.

The main reason Nanos wrote his book was to publicize an apprehension of Paul’s “voice” that did not give rise to anti-Jewish, anti-Judaism, and anti-Torah sentiments, that enhanced the relationship between Christians and Jews rather than divide them, and in honor of all the Jewish people across the long centuries who have suffered and died because (directly and indirectly) of the historical and traditional interpretation of Paul’s letters by the Church.

Even as Nanos attempts to penetrate Christian history and tradition through scholarly means in order to contribute to righting many terrible wrongs, Boaz Michael, President and Founder of the educational ministry First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) approaches the same goal through a more “grassroots” method as he writes in his book Tent of David. This sends people back into the church with the same message, that we have been misreading Paul for a very long time and the result has been disastrous on an epic scale.

leaving-the-churchWe can correct the course of history by the grace of God, but we need to be willing to change. We need to be willing to see Paul in a radically different way as compared to Church history and tradition. We need to grant ourselves the ability to set aside our long-held preconceptions about what the Bible is saying and we need to resist two things: the desire to stay “safe” by digging in our heels and not even considering that Christian interpretive traditions could be wrong and, for those Gentiles attracted to Judaism in some manner or fashion, to resist the desire to abandon the Church, Christianity, and even Christ and embrace a fully Jewish identity through conversion.

Neither option is correct. We cannot summon the Messianic future by holding on to an interpretive tradition that was born out of supersessionism and anti-Semitism, nor can we do so by exiting Christianity and the nations entirely and converting to Judaism as our only way of serving God.

I’ve referenced Rabbi David Rudolph in a number of blog posts including An Exercise in Wholeness, Twoness and Oneness: From Sermons by David Rudolph, and Oneness, Twoness and Three Converts to describe how observant Jews, particularly in the Messianic framework, and Christians, both within the Messianic community and in the local church need each other in order to fulfill prophesy and prepare the way for the return of the King.

In my opinion, no other avenue is going to work or is in accordance with the plan of God as we see, or as I see, in the Bible.

If you are a Gentile Christian in a church and you have an awareness of the Messianic plan as I often describe on this blog, you have an opportunity to help raise awareness among other Christians. It’s not easy as I can personally attest, and most of the time, people in the local church will not want to hear your/my message. Still, the effort must be made, for who can say that by starting the process, even if you don’t see its completion, that what you began was not effective?

If you are a Gentile believer in a Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots community, you do not have to apprehend Jewish identity in order to be an active and vital part of God’s plan. In fact, your Gentile identity is essential to bringing that plan to fruition. If the world was populated only with Jewish people (and that may seem attractive to many Jewish people), then the prophesies we have in our Bible about our role in bringing about the Messianic Age would be impossible to accomplish. Gentiles are absolutely needed, even as Jews are needed to be part of all that God said He would do.

jewish-prayer_daveningPaul didn’t go anywhere near what I’m saying in the Galatians letter, but as I continue to ponder this epistle and the book that Mark Nanos wrote about it, the implications are there. Paul was addressing Gentile believers existing and worshiping in a Jewish religious and community space. After a long absence, we are beginning to see that process and those relationships begin anew. The Apostolic Scriptures don’t paint a very plain portrait of how those relationships should work in an ideal manner. We only have examples of the struggle to find balance and harmony, which was probably never accomplished in Paul’s lifetime and which completely disintegrated in the decades and centuries after the Fall of Jerusalem.

Whether you are Jewish or Gentile, Messiah does not require that you give up who you are and become something you are not. Jewish believers make a mistake by “converting” to Christianity and assimilating into the Gentile mainstream because God never intended “the Church” to finish the job of eliminating the presence of Jews on our planet that Hitler’s Holocaust started (I know that sounds harsh, but that’s how some Jewish people see assimilation, especially into a normative Gentile Christian identity). Jewish believers serve God by retaining a lived Jewish identity, by observing the mitzvot, by davening with other Jews, by being who God made them to be.

Gentile believers make a mistake by thinking that being a member of the nations who are called by His Name means they/we aren’t good enough for God or somehow that status makes them/us insignificant in God’s plan. If you abandon your fellow Gentile believers and especially if you abandon Messiah and convert to Judaism, you defy one of the primary reasons for your existence. God has made all of the Jews He intends to make. For some few, conversion to Judaism may be valid, but for the majority of us, the only thing we’re trying to satisfy through conversion is our own desires or to smother feelings of inadequacy.

Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.

Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.

1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (NASB)

Whoever you are, don’t give up who you are, because God created you and the roles you fill for a reason, even if you can’t see what that reason is right now. Paul may have written his letter to a group of people who lived halfway around the world two-thousand years ago, but in this case, I can perceive very clearly how his “ironic rebuke” is addressed to us today. Perhaps you can hear this message, too.

Book Review: 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

I know I also began my blog post Prologue to the Irony of Galatians with this quote, but I think it’s important to remember a little bit about where Nanos is coming from in writing “Irony”. It’s not just another scholarly book addressing an interpretation of a New Testament letter, and it’s not even just presenting a new perspective on Paul. It’s aimed at correcting a nearly two-thousand year old injustice to the Jewish people by what eventually became the Christian Church, started by the so-called Church Fathers who reinvented the Bible to say that the Jewish people and Judaism became passé if not completely evil, perpetuated by the authors of the Reformation, and culminated in the most incredible evil of the twentieth century, an evil that still sends echos into this day and this hour: the Holocaust.

I know that some hard-core Evangelicals such as John MacArthur might say that the classic Christian interpretation of Galatians is the correct one and that the Church can hardly be blamed for how it’s been used against the Jewish people over the long centuries of exile, all the pogroms, all the torture, all the forced conversions, all the assimilation, all the deaths. He might say (I’m not saying he ever breathed a word of this, I’m just “supposing”) that most Jewish people have failed to “move on” and leave the Law behind, and that they should give up the past and embrace grace and Jesus Christ instead.

But what if that’s wrong? What if Paul never wrote something that he intended to be twisted into a declaration of condemnation against his own people, against the Torah, against the Temple, and even against himself? Christian apathy and the reluctance to overcome its own inertia (in most cases) has resulted in an almost total lack of desire, let alone any activity directed at reading Paul’s letters through fresh eyes, removing the “tradition” colored glasses and donning lenses more appropriate to how a first-century Jewish scholar would have seen the Messiah in context and how he intended his audience, in this case the Gentile believers in the various synagogues in the area of Galatia, to read his “ironic rebuke” of their apparent foolishness (I’m getting to all of that).

What if we’ve got Paul all wrong? What if that results in our having to re-examine and even to re-create what it is to be a non-Jewish worshiper of the God of Israel with the Son of God, the Moshiach, Yeshua of Nazareth as the doorway?

Nanos doesn’t go that far in his book, but it’s the logical consequence of his writing if we accept his conclusions.

Let’s dive in.

Before reading/hearing Paul’s polemical assault, the influencers appeared very differently to those he now addresses in Galatia, as trusted guides, likely even friends, who had their best interests in mind. Rather, I suggest that the influencers represented Jewish communities in Galatia that were concerned about the integration of these particular Gentiles, who were, through their involvement in the (still Jewish) Jesus subgroups, an integral part of the larger Jewish communities at this time. But their appeal to traditional norms maintained in the present age apart from Christ to modify the identity expectations of Paul’s children in Christ threatened the addressees’ interests in ways that neither the influencers nor the addressees perceived accurately–according to their parent, Paul. We have only his response.

This response implies that these Gentiles declared themselves to be identified with the Jewish communities in a new and disputable way, as righteous ones apart from proselyte conversion.

-Nanos, “Conclusion: The Irony of Galatians,” pg 317

The Mystery of RomansI probably should have started with the Conclusion and then worked through the body of the book. Like Nanos’ Romans book, “Irony” is densely packed with details as Nanos first attempts to refute the traditional Christian interpretations of Paul in general and the Galatians letter in specific, and then presents his own evidence for the premise he suggests, that this letter is not Paul’s major attempt to torpedo the Torah, Judaism, and the Jewish people, but rather what he calls an “ironic rebuke” written to his Gentile disciples who frankly he believes should have known better than to listen to the Jewish (quite possibly proselytes themselves) influencers who neither had faith in Yeshua as Messiah nor believed that Gentiles could ever fully integrate and participate in Jewish worship and community life without undergoing the proselyte rite and converting to Judaism.

While reading this book, on more than one occasion, I felt I had gotten lost in the forest, unable to see the grand landscape for the trees, and there are a lot of “trees” in this book. I took an amazing number of notes that still riddle the pages of “Irony,” and could possibly form a small book themselves if bound between their own covers. However, this book is the result of Nanos’ doctoral dissertation so you can expect it to be tough reading (for most of us, anyway).

Like “Romans”, “Irony” presupposes that the Gentile believers in Galatia were involved in the local synagogues as the only likely venue for them to practice worship of Israel’s God and to learn more about the teachings of Messiah which after all, were contained in the Torah and the Prophets. Where else does one learn Torah than among Jewish teachers and students in a synagogue?

But as Nanos presents the situation, some of the Jewish people, “agents of social control” in the Jewish community, had a problem. As I stated above, how could they understand, since Nanos states these Jewish influencers were not disciples of Yeshua/Jesus, that these righteous Gentiles could be fully equal co-participants in Jewish worship and community without undergoing the proselyte rite? Apparently, these Gentiles, in the absence of Paul or any other Jewish believer and teacher, were being successfully convinced that faith in Messiah was not enough and that they must too undergo circumcision and take on the full yoke of Torah, as it applies to the Jewish people, in order to complete their devotion to God as “Messianic” disciples.

But the ideas Nanos presents in “Irony” aren’t exactly radical.

The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming.

Acts 13:44-45 (NASB)

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Acts 15:1 (NASB)

You may have to read all of Acts 13 for context, but as you may recall, on Paul’s first trip to the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, his message of the good news of Messiah for all of the people present, born Jews, proselytes, and God-fearing Gentiles, met with great success. The Jewish members of the synagogue followed Paul and his companions after they left Sabbath services for the day, urging them to return the following Shabbat and to teach more. It was only when large numbers of pagan Gentiles who had heard of this good news invaded the synagogue that the synagogue leaders, threatened by their presence and the implications involved, turned against Paul and drove him out.

ancient-rabbi-teachingAccording to Nanos, something similar may have been operating among the influencers since how could they be sure these “righteous Gentiles” who in no way were progressing on the path to becoming proselytes, weren’t also involved in community pagan rites? The only way to be sure, would be to confirm their commitment to Hashem and the Jewish people by having them convert to Judaism.

Also, in the eyes of most Jews, the statement of Acts 15:1 seemed incredibly obvious. One does not come to Hashem except through Judaism.

Paul knew the truth, but he wrote his letter to the Galatians most likely before the Acts 15 legal decision handed down by the Council of Apostles that dictated the formal status and identity of the Gentile disciples within the Jewish community as something like “strangers living among us (Israel)”. Paul’s “gospel” was a radical idea at the time (and still is for most Jewish people today), that by faith could the Gentiles be grafted in to the community of Israel, coming to the Father by way of the Son.

As I mentioned in my previous review, according to Nanos, Paul was not a happy camper at hearing his students were defecting from their faith in Messiah and joining the more traditional path toward becoming proselytes. But rather than crafting a logical, dispassionate, and scholarly theological paper, he wrote a hopping mad “ironic rebuke,” whereby he took his Gentile followers to task for acting like inconsistent teenagers following after the “cool kids” in school rather than what they knew to be the truth.

But without understanding that Paul was being ironic, and sarcastic, and “snarky,” we could completely misunderstand what he was saying and who he was saying it to. If we believed that he was talking to Gentile and Jewish believers, and if we believed he was condemning circumcision, the Torah, and the Temple to that entire population, then we might conclude that Paul was himself “Law-free” and advocating for all Yeshua-believers, including Jewish disciples, that they become “Law-free” as well. Sounds like the exact accusations leveled against Paul in Jerusalem by Jewish people from the diaspora we find in Acts 21 (specifically from verse 17 onward), accusations that Paul steadfastly denied throughout a number of legal proceedings for the remainder of the book of Acts.

Assuming Paul wasn’t lying, then believing that Paul was against the Law, against the Temple, and against the formal practice of Pharisaic Judaism for believing Jewish people as most Christians interpret the Galatians letter just doesn’t make sense.

If approached as a theological tractate or an oration in a court of law, for example, or as a polemical attack on Jewish identity and Law observance as Galatians has often been read, then an entirely different set of expectations shapes the interpretive process than those suggested herein. But if Galatians exemplifies a letter of ironic rebuke designed to address the source they had been running when confident that their understanding of the meaning of Christ was legitimate–rightly so according to Paul’s revealed good news–then the guardians of the majority or dominant communities, who are guided in their sensibilities and responsibilities by long-standing membership and reference group norms, will no doubt consider it their rightful duty to obstruct such a course.

-Nanos, pg 319

It’s not a matter of changing a single word of the Galatians letter, but rather, shifting your perspective on what Paul was intending when he wrote it. We only have this letter to tell us what was going on with his addressees in Galatia and to suggest (Paul doesn’t tell us outright) who the influencers were. The method of interpretation makes all of the difference and as I’ve said before, Protestant Christianity has a very definite tradition about how to interpret Galatians and the rest of the Bible. The real challenge is getting the Church, from the average person sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, to the Pastoral staff, to the governing bodies of the various denominations, to the New Testament scholars and students in seminaries and universities, to set aside those traditions long enough to read what Paul is saying as a devoted disciple of Moshiach who was zealous for the Torah and never taught against the Law of Moses or the Temple of God.

Not an easy task to be sure.

The Jewish PaulBut if we read not just Galatians, but the rest of the record of Jewish and Gentile interactions in the Apostolic era with an eye on the tremendous social difficulties involved in even attempting to integrate these two populations in the synagogue under the radical notion that Gentiles did not have to adopt Jewish identities in order to be fully equal co-participants in the worship of God through Messiah, then we come up with a very different picture of the lives of the first Gentile believers and even what our lives as Christians should be today, particularly relative to the Jewish people and Judaism.

Which brings us back to Nanos’ statement about Shoah in the introduction to “Irony”.

The vast majority of the text, while it seems quite logical to me, would really require someone well-studied in New Testament scholarship to critically analyze. What Nanos writes makes sense to me primarily because it fits my own overarching view of the message of the Bible, but without traveling a similar educational path to Nanos or others like him, I don’t doubt I could miss quite a lot. But while I don’t have the ability to intimately examine each and every bit of research and evidence “Irony” presents, I can see that the final conclusion, at least generally, fits the portrait in which I have come to see the Apostle to the Gentiles, a Jewish man who was given the extraordinary task of bringing the good news of the Messiah to the pagan nations of the world; a man who centuries after his death, has been (in my opinion) falsely accused both by Christians and Jews, of being a traitor to his own people, of abandoning the Torah, abandoning the practice of his forefathers in the worship of God, and twisting the teachings of a humble itinerant Rabbi in the Galilee into a brand-new religious form that has no resemblance to the way Jesus taught the Torah of Moses to the “lost sheep of Israel.”

I’m glad I read this book but it certainly wasn’t easy. I consider myself educated but not in this field of study. However, this is a necessary book to work through for Christians because we must be shaken up and startled out of our complacency and our interpretive traditions. Even if you’re not willing to accept a view of Paul and his letter to the Galatians that exactly matches Nanos’ description, the very attempt should help convince you as it continues to convince me, that historic and modern Christianity has made a terrible mistake in how we see Paul. There’s a lot more to learn or relearn about Paul. “The Irony of Galatians” by Mark Nanos is but one step on that journey.

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.

Nanos, Paul, and the Consequences of Jewish Identity in Messiah

PaulFor we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Romans 3:28-31

The discovery of the Shema Israel as central to Paul’s theology was a profound moment for me, and has shaped my reading of him ever since. If I was writing a theology of Paul, it would be the center around which all other topics turned. Here we see it employed clearly and in a pivotal point in his argument in Romans for why non-Jewish believers in Christ must remain non-Jews and not become proselytes, and by the implication of his logic, why Jews remain Jews after faith in Christ: “since [if indeed] God is one.” Paul’s language here, and throughout Romans and Galatians, calls to mind the central prayer of Judaism, repeated twice daily, and the last words a pious Jew hopes to pass his or her lips, which begins: “Hear [shema] Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”

-Mark D. Nanos
“A Torah Observant Paul?: What Difference Could it Make for Christian/Jewish Relations Today?” (pg 45)
May 9, 2005 (PDF Version Sent – Endnote Formatted)

Since I completed my final summary of the classic Mark Nanos book The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters, I’ve been wondering how Nanos’ research into and perspectives on Paul have progressed. After all, the “Romans” book was published in 1996, almost two decades ago. What’s Nanos been up to since then?

The paper I’m quoting from gives a compressed answer, though it is still almost nine years old. I find the same voice and the same perspectives in the “Torah Observant Paul” paper as I do in “Romans,” with just a hint of additional development. The paper, as a whole, addresses the more “troublesome” passages in Paul’s epistles as they appear to conflict with the life of a Torah-observant Jew in the late Second Temple period. Nanos points out the overwhelming body of Christian scholarship that paints Paul as a traitor to his own people and the “inventor” of Christianity, and seeks to refactor the Biblical record by deliberately viewing Paul as a devout Jew with a life-long devotion to Hashem, the Temple, the Torah, and Judaism.

I’m not going to review the entirety of this lengthy paper right now. I’m focusing only on a small portion of it so I can extend the Nanos commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans, gleaning additional insights and sparkling bits of wisdom as they are scattered ahead of me on my path of faith.

In the “Romans” book, Nanos also mentions the Shema as the central element required in understanding the Jewish apostle’s message to the non-Jewish believers in Rome. Built on his commentary on Romans and Galatians, Nanos, in addressing Jewish and Gentile identity in Messiah, believes Paul is not only discouraging Gentiles from converting to Judaism as a means of justification before God, he’s forbidding its as contrary to prophesy and to the “oneness” testified to by the Shema.

Likewise, somewhere halfway between Paul’s time and our own Rashi wrote, to explain the repetition of the Name (Hashem, the Name, a rabbinic circumlocution for YHWH/Lord) in the Shema:

“The Lord who is our God now, but not (yet) the God of the (other) nations, is destined to be the One Lord, as it is said, ‘For then will I give to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent’ (Zeph 3:9). And (likewise) it is said, ‘And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; on that day shall the Lord be One and His name One’ (Zech 14:9).”

Paul’s argument is that the God who now righteouses (sic) Israel is the same God who now righteouses (sic) non-Israelites who turn to Israel’s God in Jesus Christ as the Lord of all the Nations too. He is the one whom both the members of Israel and of the other nations within the Christ-groups choose—like the special one that someone falls in love with like no other, thereafter the only one for themselves. For Paul, if non-Jews in-Christ become Jewish proselytes, and thereby Israelites, they do not bear witness to the arrival of the day when representatives from all of the nations turn from idols to the worship of the One God, but simply to the truth that in the present age Israel represents the righteous ones of God, members of which they become by proselyte conversion. That identity transformation for non-Jews is available apart from the confession of faith in Jesus Christ in most other Jewish groups of the time, which provide for proselyte conversion to join the family of Abraham, of God, within the present age, and await with Israel the hope of the age of reconciliation of the nations, when the wolf (such as is Rome) will lie down with the lamb (Israel), without devouring her.

Nanos, pp 46-7

Mark NanosFor Nanos as well as for Paul, it was not a matter of Gentiles having the option to convert to Judaism within Yeshua-faith, it was strictly forbidden, for prophesy tells of both Jews and Gentiles worshiping alongside each other, Israel expressing devotion to Hashem beside all the other nations (i.e. non-Jewish people) of the Earth, acknowledging that God is One and His Name is One. Even if a Gentile converted, not for the purpose of justification (for only faith justifies) but for some other reason (the desire to take on the full beauty of the Torah, an intermarriage of a Gentile with a Jew), it contradicts God’s Word and intent for both Jewish and non-Jewish humanity.

Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the entire law.

Galatians 5:3

Many seek to phrase the issue of proselyte conversion for non-Jewish Christ-believers from Paul’s point of view thus: Paul sought to communicate that one did not “have to” become a Jew in order to become a Christian, or if a Christian, in order to be a good one, or some such thing. Paul in Galatians, especially 5:2-6, makes it plain that a non-Jewish Christ-believer “cannot” become a proselyte.

-Nanos, pg 30

Cannot? Why not? Or have I already tipped my hand?

However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.

1 Corinthians 7:17-20

The point Paul drives home is that regardless of which state one was in when called, their present state requires attending to obedience to God’s commandments—even guarding the interests of these commandments rather than the interests of identity as Jew or non-Jew. The noun (in Greek) can be translated as “keep,” or “obey,” and carries the sense of “guard” or “watch over.” There is no shadow of concern with works-righteousness, but rather, with failure to behave appropriate to the state of Christ-believingness…

Paul’s language here brings up a point that corresponds to several points in the previous discussion of Gal 5:3. In Paul’s propositional arrangement, a Jew — such as he was — remained in-Christ a Jew, and thus obligated to observe Torah. However, a non-Jew in-Christ remained a non-Jew, and thus not obligated to observe Torah on the same terms as a Jew, since not a Torah-person. Nevertheless, a non-Jew was now obligated to turn from slavery to sin to slavery to righteousness, which was defined in terms that embody an essentially Torah-observant life (cf. Rom 6:14-23; 13:8-14; Gal 5:6-6:10), the lifestyle incumbent upon a so-called righteous non-Jew (something of an oxymoron).

Nanos, pp 32-3

The ProphetNanos not only emphasizes that Paul forbids a Gentile in Yeshua faith from converting to Judaism as a contradiction to the prophets, but he sees the co-participation of righteous Jews and Gentiles in Messiah expressed relative to identity issues, with Jews who came to Christ as Jews remaining Jewish with continuing Jewish obligations to Torah observance, and Gentiles who came to Christ as Gentiles not assuming a Jewish obligation to Torah but nevertheless, requiring a behavioral as well as “heart change” relative to lifestyle (probably as defined, at least in part, by the Acts 15 letter to the Gentile believers).

All this certainly reiterates my own opinion that Gentiles coming to faith within the ancient (or modern) Jewish religious stream of “the Way” (or its modern expression, Christianity, including within the such groups as Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism and their variations) that we (Gentiles) are not obligated to the Torah of Moses, at least not in the manner of observant Jews (Messianic or otherwise).

Many ancient prophesies cite how the nations (i.e. non-Jewish people) in Messianic days will take hold of the tzitzit of a Jewish man (Zechariah 8:23) and go up to the Mountain of the God of Jacob (Isaiah 2:3) to worship, because the House of God, the Temple, is a House of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7). In Nanos’ opinion, how did Paul see this, since he was living out the first fruits of those prophesies?

At issue is not that most other Jewish groups would likely disagree with Paul’s proposition that such reconciliation will occur when that day arrives, so that members of other nations do not then join Israel to join with her in worship of the One Creator God of all humankind. Some may believe that day will be accompanied by the conversion of the nations, in the sense of proselyte conversion to Israel; others might await the destruction of those of the other nations as foremost in their hopes. These expectations and others can be gleaned from the Scriptures and other writings of Paul’s time.

But even those who hope for reconciliation with the nations and expect them to remain not-Israel would not agree with Paul that this moment had arrived in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, or even just begun to arrive and be witnessed in the life of the communities of believers in that proposition—unless sharing Paul’s faith in Christ. In their groups the distinction and membership that follows from it remains between Gentiles, however welcome as friends and guests, and Jews or Israelites, a category that includes (albeit with some variety among groups) proselytes, those who have turned from idolatry to worship the One God and have completed the rite of conversion signaling that they have joined the people of that God in full membership, so that they are no longer regarded as mere guests.

-Nanos, pg 47

Nanos continues with this point:

I do not agree with the view of many interpreters of Paul—Jewish as well as Christian—that Paul taught the dissolution of differences, that there were no longer Jews and Gentiles in Christ, but a kind of new, third race, as some have phrased it. I grant that he does sometimes write that there is neither this nor that. But it cannot be so. There remain fundamental biological differences between women and men, for example, and the male penis has either been circumcised or remains in its foreskinned state. Recognition of this reality is witnessed in his arguments, including about just this matter, and in his continued employment of this distinction to address and explain the composition of the world from an Israelite-based conceptualization of reality: he does not address anyone as “Christian,” but as Jew or non-Jew, circumcised or foreskinned, and within those categories, as having faith in/of Jesus Christ (Messiah), or not.

-Nanos, pg 48

Reading of the Torah at Beth ImmanuelEqual co-participation in the Messiah did not include obliteration of identity. Jews remained Jews and Gentiles remained Gentiles, with one primary indicator of distinction being relationship with Torah obligation. This did not, in Nanos’ opinion, inherently create class differentiations between Jews and Gentiles. Salvation, justification, intimacy, accessibility to God were all equally within the apprehension of Jewish and non-Jewish Yeshua-believers, but none of this required Jews to abandon Judaism and become Gentiles, nor Gentiles to convert to Judaism (or conversely not convert) and take on the Jewish obligatory observance of the Torah mitzvot.

In fact doing so, in Paul’s opinion (according to Nanos) would be an affront to God and a violation of the ancient prophesies of the Tanakh (Old Testament).

Today’s commentary is a mere subset of the Nanos paper and I hope you click the link to read the full contents of what he wrote. For me, this information is an affirmation of the original intent of God for both the Jewish people and the nations of the world, that He desires all to be reconciled before Him, and that the flow of prophesy from the earliest books of the Bible through the apostolic writings, proceed in a comprehensive, consistent, and additive manner, painting a unified portrait of the people of God moving forward through history, rather than a cosmic “bait-and-switch” whereby God attracts Israel to Himself, and then in the final act of his drama, summarily abandons his bride for a more “youthful” partner, as traditional Christian doctrine demands.

Nanos applies his research to the last part of his paper, suggesting what Christians and Jews can and should take away from this information and how it facilitates modern Christian/Jewish dialogue. Perhaps I’ll address this important issue at some future time. However, I do want to mention one important point:

In a slightly different direction, Michael Wyschogrod suggests that Christians should change the church policy that holds Jews to be no longer Jews upon becoming Christians, so that after baptism they cannot observe Torah, or if they do, that it cannot be respected as an act of faith, so that the difference between Jews and non-Jews in church is erased in the direction of Gentile-only identity. This posture infers that the election of Israel is superseded by that of the church and that the covenant with the Jewish people is regarded to be over. In other words, not urging Jews in Christ to remain Jews betrays disrespect for the place of empirical Israel.

-Nanos, pg 55

Even in churches that generally support the Jewish people and Israel, in expecting the “Jewish Christians” within their own walls to not have a continued obligation to the Torah is, in and of itself, “cryptosupersessionism” (a term I attribute to Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann), which is a tragic consequence of nearly twenty centuries of anti-Jewish theology in the Church.

The irony of all this is that, from Nanos’ perspective (and mine), it may well be discovered that it is the duty of the Church to encourage its Jewish members, who have abandoned Jewish practice and assimilated within Gentile Christianity, to re-engage Judaism and Torah observance as an act of “Christian” faith.