Tag Archives: Magnus Zetterholm

Book Review of “Paul within Judaism,” The Introduction

A new perspective in Pauline scholarship is represented in this volume. This perspective is readily distinguishable from other interpretations of the apostle, including the collection of views now formally recognized as “the (!) New Perspective on Paul” and, all the more, the views mounted in opposition to it because of the New Perspective’s challenge to major tenets of traditional Christian interpretation.

Mark D. Nanos
from the Introduction to
Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle
Edited by Mark D. Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm

I’d known for sometime that Nanos and Zetterholm were collaborating on a new book about Paul, but it wasn’t until I read Toby Janicki’s brief review of the book in the current issue of Messiah Journal that I discovered it had already been published (back in January, actually). Throwing caution and my credit card to the winds, I quickly purchased it at Amazon and downloaded it to my Kindle Fire.

There are nine individual contributors to this volume, including Nanos and Zetterholm, and while they all operate within what has been termed the New Perspective on Paul (more on that in a minute), they aren’t in total agreement with each other. So much the better. Generally within any discipline there is not unanimous agreement on all points, which invites discussion to hone what we can learn in said-discipline. I’m optimistic that because of this “honing,” “Paul within Judaism” will bring into sharper focus who Paul was within his first century Jewish framework as the emissary to the Gentiles.

Since I’m facing nine separate essays inspired by “a session entitled ‘Paul and Judaism’ at the Society of Biblical Literature in 2010” plus an Introduction, I intend to review each essay as a stand-alone presentation. That means yet another multi-part review for me to write and offer to anyone who wishes to read them.

I mentioned above something about “The New Perspective on Paul,” but considering the diverse group of scholars whose work we will be evaluating, Nanos states:

The diverse expressions of their research have been variously described in recent years collectively as the “Radical New Perspective,” “Beyond the New Perspective,” and “Post-New Perspective.” Yet these monikers do not fully communicate the major emphases of this research paradigm, since it is not primarily a new development within the New Perspective…

See what I mean?

This volume marshalls the talents of “an international group of scholars” in challenging “major tenets of traditional Christian interpretation” of Paul, using an “alternative approach, for which the phrase the ‘Paul within Judaism’ perspective seems most appropriate.”

Nanos argues that the current prevailing understanding of Paul anachronistically places him within Christianity rather than Judaism, and what keeps Paul within a Christian context is the Church’s long history of tradition regarding the Apostle. The result is:

…profound discontinuities arise between the Paul constructed in this new paradigm and the theological traditions constructed around Paul in the past.

Paul within JudaismI should say these past-constructed traditions about Paul are equally applied by Christianity and normative Judaism, the former to justify reinventing an ancient branch of Judaism as Gentile Christianity, and the latter to condemn that invention and Paul along with it.

However, a Christianity and Judaism that clings to such erroneous and yet enduring traditions on the Apostle results in their failure to see Paul as perhaps he truly was: a Jew operating within a Judaism that was devoted to the revealed Messiah and that had a remarkably liberal view of Gentile admission into their community.

Speaking of the contributors to the New Perspective, Nanos writes:

It also draws deeply from the scholars responsible for the so-called “Sonderweg” trajectory, which detects in Paul’s letters the belief in a “special way” for non-Jews to be included in salvation through Christ alongside the historical Sinai covenant with Israel. (emph. mine)

I bolded “alongside” above to notify anyone who may be concerned that this perspective on Paul defines Jewish and Gentile roles and responsibilities within the ancient (and modern) Ekklesia of Messiah differently. How differently, we will discover as we proceed through the various reviews including this one.

I mentioned above about Christianity’s and Judaism’s anachronistic view of Paul as a “Christian.” To clarify that point of view, the Introduction says in part:

He (Paul) is often enough described simply as a “Christian,” as are his “churches”; he is a “missionary.”

…because it is built on the conviction that there is something fundamentally, essentially “wrong” with, and within Judaism. Further, what is wrong with Judaism is generally analogized with what Paul is understood to have found wrong with “paganism”…

In other words, Nanos shows us that the traditional interpretation of Paul is that he found both Judaism and paganism to contain the same sorts of “wrongs,” necessitating that he create a separate religious stream called “Christianity” that departs from both, taking both Jewish and non-Jewish adherents with him. Paul then ceased the practice of Judaism and identifying himself as a Jew through his “conversion” to “Christianity.”

In this light, it’s small wonder that most non-Jewish (and Jewish) Christians in the Church revere Paul while most Jews consider him a traitor and revile him.

introduction to messianic judaismI’d love to send a copy of this book to every Christian Pastor, Preacher, Minister, and Priest in America but I suppose it would do no good. As the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water…” I tried that on a much smaller scale some time ago by purchasing a copy of Rudolph’s and Willitts’ volume Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations and giving it to the Head Pastor of the church I used to attend, in the (vain) hope that such an august collection of scholars writing on the merits of a Messianic Jewish perspective would at least get him to consider changing some of his views.

It didn’t work. He clung too tightly and too dearly to his Fundamentalist Christian “hashkafah,” as Boaz Michael puts it, and was unable to travel the distance necessary to view God, Messiah, and the Bible from a distinctly different, and in my opinion, a more Biblically sustainable, vantage point.

Nanos speaks to this:

If one might say that the latter oppose the New Perspective for being too new for their traditional theological positions to embrace, the contributors to this volume oppose it for being not new enough.


…and the consistency of their answers with the fundamental views attributed to Paul in various traditional Christian theologies, not least the way that Jewish identity and Judaism are portrayed.

…some oppose the New Perspective because it undermines the traditional view that what Paul found wrong with Judaism was its works-righteousness and legalism.

This view of how Christianity sees Paul in relation to the “wrong” in Judaism is contrasted with:

Judaism was characterized by “covenantal nomism,” which recognizes the initial role of divine grace and of faith to initiate the relationship, but also perceives the consequent responsibility to behave according to the terms of the agreement into which participants have entered.

More simply put, the Jewish people entered into a relationship with God by grace and faith and from that, agreed to a set of covenant conditions requiring a specific set of responses, that is, observance and performance of the Torah mitzvot.

Unfortunately, “the ineluctable sin of arrogance at least since Augustine” has resulted in a radical distortion and refactoring of Paul, wholly removing him from his original context, and placing him in one that would have been completely foreign to a first century Jew, that is, Christianity.

And yet, the Church continues to insist that those of us who view Paul as a Jew within Judaism are guilty of:

…the supposed sin of ethnic particularism, variously described and named. On the premises of the New Perspective, this “wrong” is assumed to be the necessary sin involved in celebrating and guarding the boundaries of Jewish identity and behavior, as if claiming to be set apart for God was inherently arrogant, mistaken , and evidence of bigotry.

Not only does larger Christianity hold this viewpoint against those various streams of modern Messianic Judaism, but so does much of the Gentile Hebrew Roots movement. In Part 1 of a recent blog post, I quoted Carl Kinbar as stating he has hesitated to express such views of Jewish particularism for fear of inadvertently offending non-Jews in Messianic Judaism and the wider body of faith in Yeshua (Jesus).

Speaking to the presence of Jews and non-Jews in the ancient Ekklesia, Nanos writes:

This also means that the “assemblies” that he (Paul) founded, and to which he wrote the letters that still provide the major basis for this research…were also developing their (sub)culture based upon their convictions about the meaning of Jesus for non-Jews as well as for Jews within Judaism.

Magnus Zetterholm
Magnus Zetterholm

Of course, it needs to be understood that non-Jews finding the meaning of Messiah within a Judaism does not mean they become Jews nor does it mean, even remaining Gentiles, that they (or we) inherit the obligation of the Sinai covenant to observe the mitzvot.

…even though many if not most of those who were joining these subgroups were and remained non-Jews.

Nanos spent the remainder of the Introduction briefly describing each contributor to the volume and summarizing each of their articles. I won’t go into this portion of the Introduction except to draw something from what Nanos says of the first essay, written by Magnus Zetterholm, the co-editor of this work:

Moreover, if one postulates that Paul still observed Torah, as do Zetterholm and several contributors, then the idea that Paul dismissed it as obsolete or antithetical to the goals of Christ-following Jews is illogical. Zetterholm explains that Paul was not against Torah observance for Jews, including himself; rather, he was adamantly against the observance of Torah by non-Jews who became followers of Christ.

We’ll have to wait until I read and review Zetterholm’s essay to get the full details of his perspective, but this statement does address what I mentioned above about a central view in much of Messianic Judaism, that there remains a distinctiveness between Jew and non-Jew in the Ekklesia of Yeshua relative to the Torah mitzvot and our specific responsibilities to each other and to God.

This next part also needs to be expressed:

However, since this Jewish “faction” drew in many non-Jews, who would naturally be thereafter practicing the Jewish norms of communal life, even if not under Torah technically as non-Jews, this led to various conflicting views about the standing and behavior to be expected of these non-Jews from within the movement and from those outside of it, to which Paul’s letters attest.

And this is exactly what we find happening in Messianic Jewish communities today, particularly those containing a non-Jewish majority membership (which is the vast majority of Messianic Jewish synagogues in the United States today). This is another excellent reason to radically revise how we read Paul. If he knew the answer to the problems vexing non-Jewish participation in modern Messianic Judaism, we need to find out what they are.

Next time, I’ll begin my review of the first essay out of nine, written by Magnus Zetterholm called “Paul within Judaism: The State of the Questions.”

Acting Jewishly But Not Jewish, Part 1

Paul’s “Jewish Assemblies” rather than “Paul’s Gentile Churches”? “Paul’s Jewish non-Jews” instead of “Paul’s Christian Gentiles?”? Paul bringing Non-Jews into “Judaism” rather than into “Christianity”? Am I really going to argue that these are more accurate labels for discussing the non-Jews who Paul brought to faith in Jesus Christ and the gatherings of them with Jews sharing that conviction, as well as the communal ways of life into which Paul sought to enculturate them? “Yes” — and “No.”

Dr. Mark D. Nanos
‘Paul’s Non-Jews Do Not Become “Jews,” But Do They Become “Jewish”?: Reading Romans 2:25-29 Within Judaism, Alongside Josephus,’ p.1
forthcoming in The Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting (2014)
and presented as a paper at the SBL Annual Meeting in 2013, Baltimore, MD.

Since this cites a portion of Romans 2, it would be prudent to review that part of scripture before proceeding:

For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Romans 2:25-29 (NASB)

How did the Apostle Paul see the distinction between Jesus-believing Jews and Gentiles in Jewish worship and community space? I’ve written on this topic numerous times, often utilizing the research and publications of both Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm in such “meditations” as Nanos, Paul, and the Consequences of Jewish Identity in Messiah, Nanos, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem with Peter, and Zetterholm, Nanos, Ancient Antioch, and Some Implications. In this more recent paper by Nanos, one that should be published later this year, we see an interesting development in how Nanos presents Paul relative to Romans. Did Paul see the non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah as practicing Judaism or behaving “jewishly” without converting to Judaism or taking on identical obligations and roles with the Jews?

Being identified as a Jew and behaving like a Jew are readily recognized to represent two related yet not identical matters (p.2).

This behavior can be referred to by the adverb “jewishly,” and as the expression “jewishness.” In colloquial terms, one who practices a Jewish way of life according to the ancestral customs of the Jews, which is also referred to as practicing “Judaism”… (p.3).

Mark Nanos
Mark Nanos

Nanos distinguishes between being born ethnically Jewish and (as a male) being circumcised on the eighth day and acting “jewishly” (the lower-case “j” is used deliberately by Nanos), as having significant overlap, but not precisely being same. Even a Jewish person born of two Jewish parents and circumcised may choose not to observe any of the mitzvot and nevertheless will be considered Jewish, albeit apostate.

A Gentile who chooses to observe some or even all of the Jewish behaviors associated with the mitzvot can be said to be acting “jewishly” or practicing “Judaism,” but that does not mean the person is actually considered Jewish.

But where is the dividing line? How far could a Gentile Jesus-believer go in Paul’s time, and how far can a Gentile Jesus-believer go in our time in “acting Jewishly” without actually being Jewish? Can we use Paul to establish any rules or guidelines for Gentile Christians today who are attracted to Jewish practices or learning and yet do not desire to convert to Judaism because of their Christian faith?

Because ethnic identity (Jew/s) and ethnic thinking and behavior (Jewish / jewishly / jewishness / Judaism) are clearly related, but not synonymous, interchangeable terms, an interesting phenomenon arises when seeking to describe groups as Jewish. Although “Jewish” can be and is most often used to refer to Jews specifically, and thus gatherings of Jews: they are Jewish, the Jewish people, a Jewish service, and so on, as we will see, “Jewish” can also refer to groups or activities that include non-Jews: that group is Jewish, although it includes non-Jews who appear to think and behave like Jews (p. 6).

Nanos could easily be describing almost any synagogue I’ve ever been in. I’m a Christian married to a Jew. It’s very common to find a mixed Jewish/Gentile group in our local Reform/Conservative synagogue and of course at the Chabad, a number of intermarried couples attend, and yet both venues are undeniably Jewish. The same may be said for some Messianic Jewish synagogues that have at least a core population and leadership of Jews but that also houses a large number of Gentiles who are involved in Jewish practices, such as listening to the Torah readings, davening from a siddur, praying in Hebrew, and so forth.

In all of the contexts listed in the above paragraph, the participating Gentiles can be considered as acting “jewishly” within a Jewish community while remaining fully Gentile. But as I said before, how far can we take the concept of “Gentile jewishness” and consider it a valid method of “practicing Judaism?”

orthodox-talmud-studyAlmost two years ago, I stopped searching for an identity and declared myself a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism. While my practice isn’t all too “Jewish” (or “jewish”), my thought processes, study materials, and some of my study methods borrow heavily from traditional Judaism.

Of course, I can be a Gentile studying Judaism in the same sense as a 21st century American studying 16th century Greek cuisine. I don’t have to be the thing that I’m studying. Learning the typical dishes of Greece of the 1700s doesn’t require that I be Greek.

But it’s a little different in the world of religion and religious lifestyle. I could study Torah as an abstract collection of knowledge the way some people study the Bible as literature or as history, but the Bible is unique and the Torah is designed to change lives. To be a Gentile student of Messianic Judaism involves not only specific study methods and materials but the required context in which to live it all out.

To continue from Nanos:

What if a group mostly made up of non-Jews with some Jews in leadership behaves jewishly? What if it is made up exclusively of non-Jews yet founded or advised by Jews? What if it consists of only non-Jews and functions independent of any Jews and yet bases its thinking and behavior on Jewish Scriptures, traditions and ways of life? (pp. 6-7)

As I read these passages from the Nanos paper, I can’t help but see a progression from Messianic Judaism (MJ) into Hebrew Roots (HR). The closer the Gentile is to the MJ side of the scale, in a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles to a group of Gentiles with a core leadership of Jews or even arguably, a group of only Gentiles that is advised and guided by Jewish mentors, that group is or could be considered “Jewish” or at least perceived correctly as acting “jewishly”.

However, once to you approach the opposite side of the scale, which would be defined by a group made up exclusively of Gentiles with only Gentiles in leadership, even if they are using Jewish educational materials and religious artifacts (siddurs, kippahs, Tallits, the Chumash, and so on), that group may still appear to be acting “jewishly,” but they are not a Jewish group. They can study Judaism, but they aren’t a Judaism, thus a group made up exclusively of Gentiles with no ties to Jewish oversight cannot, in this paradigm, call itself “Messianic Judaism” and is better defined as “Hebrew Roots” or by some other label.

This directly reflects back to the communities Paul established or in which he was involved such as the “synagogue of the Way” in Syrian Antioch (see Zetterholm’s The Formation of Christianity in Antioch as well as Nanos’ The Mystery of Romans).

The level of “jewishness” practiced by Gentile disciples of the Master may have been in direct proportion to the involvement and influence of Jesus-believing Jews operating in the same religious and social community. The less influence exerted by Jewish mentors on the Gentiles, the less “jewish” were the behaviors and lifestyles of the Gentiles.

The Jewish PaulWe see something of this in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Historically, we know that for a time, Jews were banned from Rome. Prior to that event, there were both Gentiles and Jews who co-mingled as disciples of Jesus. Once the Jews were banned and (presumably) Rome was without a Jewish population, the Gentiles became solely in charge of their own social and religious dynamic, including how “jewishly” they chose to behave. When the Jews were allowed to return and attempted to resume their prior relationship with the Gentiles in Messiah, they discovered the Gentiles were riding on their “high horses,” so to speak, pushing back against Jewish synagogue authority and even criticizing the Jews for lack of strict adherence to Jewish Torah practice.

The chapter (Romans 2) within which this text appears begins with a challenge to anyone judging others, based on the argument that the very act of knowing there is a standard to which the other is held logically involves knowing that one has also failed to achieve it. Realizing that God is the judge who is fully aware of both one’s own intentions and actions as well as that of one’s neighbors, the message Paul drives home is to focus on one’s own responsibilities to do what is required of one, to judge oneself and leave the judging of others to the Judge… (p.19)

And again, Nanos states:

Paul’s argument is constructed to encourage non-Jews to avoid making the same mistake they are quick to recognize in this diatribal caricature. Paul calls them to concentrate on being faithful to what they are responsible to do in service instead of judgment toward the other, including the one who may be judging them… (p. 31)

Nanos is specifically referencing Romans 2:25-29 which I quoted at the top of this blog post, and is saying that those Gentiles who were choosing to judge their Jewish counterparts for any errors or lapses in Torah observance would be better advised to pay attention to their own responsibilities and let the Righteous Judge of Israel judge Israel.

Which, given the current conversation, begs the question of what behaviors of theirs should the Gentiles in Rome have been attending to? Put another way, should the Roman Gentile disciples have been paying attention to the proper execution of their “jewish” behaviors? What does it mean to “concentrate on being faithful to what they are responsible to do?”

Paul argued that these uncircumcised non-Jews were full and equal members of the family of God alongside of the Jewish members, indeed, equally children of Abraham and co-heirs of the promises made to him and his seed, not simply welcome guests (p. 7).

That sounds good but it doesn’t complete the picture.

In the next argument, vv. 12-16, Paul makes it plain that God judges according to the faithful behavior, which is not expected to represent precisely the same standards for Jews and non-Jews; indeed, each is held to the standard of what they know to be proper behavior (p. 19). (emph. mine)

studying_tanakh_messiahSeveral chapters in Romans seem to toggle back and forth between the responsibilities of Jews and Gentiles relative to God and the potential for hypocrisy among the Jews who claim the advantages of being Jewish but who, while teaching the Gentiles what is proper for God (for Gentiles), fail themselves to perform what is proper before God (for Jews). It should have been fairly clear to the Jewish people involved what their roles and responsibilities were, but were the Gentiles just supposed to “wing it,” hoping to know what is right and wrong?

We know that Paul had certain expectations of the Gentiles. Although he opposed Gentiles in Christ from undergoing the proselyte rite, he also discouraged them from continuing any idolatrous practices (Rom 3:29–4:25; 6; 1 Cor 7:17-22; Gal 4:8-10; 1 Thess 1:9-10).

Of the Gentiles taught by Paul, Nanos says:

Paul was exhorting non-Jews turning to God in Christ to seek to discover within themselves the noble values of jewishness, what being a Jew ideally signifies. They should learn to internalize jewishness as the highest value for themselves, albeit remaining non-Jews… (p. 32). (emph. mine)

But here’s a strong caveat:

His letters consist precisely of instruction in the Jewish way of life for non-Jews who turn to Israel’s God as the One God of all the nations; he enculturates them into God’s Guidance (Torah) without bringing them under Torah technically, since they do not become Jews/Israel. They are non-Jews who are learning, by way of Paul’s instructions, to practice Judaism! (p. 33) (emph. mine)

I can see where you might think all this is as clear as mud.

How can Gentiles learn to draw their values from Judaism and even practice Judaism to the degree that outside observers would say the Gentiles are acting “jewishly” and yet still operate under an overlapping but distinct set of standards from the Jews, not be considered under the Torah, and not be considered either Jews or Israel?

From the Didache (6:2), it is said:

For, on the one hand, if you are able to bear
the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect;
but if, on the other hand, you are not able,
that which you are able, do this.

quoted from The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary, pg 19
by Aaron Milavec

The Didache is considered a set of formalized instructions for Gentile initiates who were seeking to become disciples of Jesus. The document is traced to the second century C.E. and probably represents an earlier form of oral instructions and traditions, possibly originating with the Apostles or their immediate disciples. These standards would have been the basis Jewish mentors used to train the Gentile initiates in preparing them to become baptized and enter into their role as disciples.

beth immanuelFrom here we see that it is likely the Gentiles were encouraged to bear “the whole yoke of the Lord” Torah, in order to be “perfect,” but if they were not able, it was allowable that they should perform whatever was within their capacity. Again, please keep in mind, that a Gentile acting “jewishly” was both voluntary and was designed to occur within a Jewish communal context.

Given space limitations and the patience of those of you reading this, I’m going to stop here and pick it up in a subsequent blog post. There’s still much to explore about a Gentile acting “jewishly” in ancient times and what happens when he or she is outside a Jewish space. Also, what are the implications for those of us today who are Gentiles who study Messianic Judaism, both inside a Jewish context and outside?

Addendum: I’ve published the second part of this two-part series including a correction to some mistakes I’ve made in part one. I want to thank Dr. Mark Nanos for bringing what I’ve misunderstood about his paper to my attention and allowing me the opportunity to fix my mistakes.

The Nangeroni Seminar on the Jewish Apostle Paul

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

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

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

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

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

More’s the pity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…doesn’t it?

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

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

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

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

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

I asked Dr. Hurtado the following on his blog:

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

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

To which he replied:

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

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

So, to break this down:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zetterholm, Nanos, Ancient Antioch, and Some Implications

…and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Acts 11:26 (NASB)

I mentioned in my previous blog post, Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and “Honey, I Want a Divorce”, that I wanted to discuss the implications of the final chapter in Magnus Zetterholm’s book The Formation of Christianity in Antioch on a number of different religious communities.

Obviously, there are implications for the modern Church, but also I see how ancient and modern Judaism is significantly impacted, as are the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements. I’ll take each one in turn.


Based on what Zetterholm concluded regarding the forced separation of Gentiles and Jews in the Jesus-believing communities which resulted in Gentiles forming their (our) own brand new religion called “Christianity,” we can see that we weren’t kicked out of Jesus-believing Judaism. We rebelled like a petulant teenager and walked out the door. Certainly if Saint Ignatius of Antioch can make a statement such as, “[i]t is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practise Judaism” (Magn. 10:3 quoted by Zetterholm on pg 203), we aren’t talking about a “no-fault divorce.” The “Church Fathers” went out of their way to “demonize” Judaism and separate any “valid” worship of Jesus Christ from anything related at all to the Jews.

We noted above that Ignatius in Phld. 6:2 connected Judaism with the activities of “the prince of this world,” and that he in Magn. 8:1 probably used popular prejudice against the Jews in describing Judaism as being based on myths and fables.

It is well known that, in the decades after the death of Ignatius, Christian literature abounds in developing anti-Semitic themes.

-Zetterholm, pg 210

It is likely, as Schoedel states, that the identification of Christ as the word from silence refers to the supposed inability of the Jews to understand their own religious tradition: the appearance of Christ from silence brings the divine hidden purpose to light. The radical “Christianization” of the prophets is one indication of how profound this inability is, and how extensive the hostility is between Judaism and Christianity.

-ibid, pg 220

I know I’ve quoted these passages from Zetterholm’s book previously, but they’re important for context. As the history of the Church attests, these attitudes weren’t isolated to the first few centuries of the Common Era, they’ve echoed down the corridors of time from Ignatius of Antioch to the modern Christian Church with predictable results on Jews and Judaism. True, we no longer torture Jewish people in order to force them to convert or exile them from our nations, but we aren’t always “safe,” either.

Sarah (not her real name) is a young Jewish woman, an academic, raised in Orthodox Jewish life, who came to believe in Yeshua in a remarkable manner some years ago. Having been greatly sheltered in her upbringing, and knowing nothing about either Protestants or Messianic Jews, she wanted to serve Yeshua in an academic setting. She therefore joined the Dominicans, a teaching order of the Roman Catholic Church. She reasoned that they would allow her to teach freely in her field. In this she was right: as an excellent teacher, she was allowed to freely teach. She also assumed, on the basis of her limited knowledge of the early Yeshua movement, that she would be allowed to live as a Jew while she served Yeshua amongst the Dominicans. In this, she was wrong. Her superiors were at first amused at her adherence to Jewish life, then annoyed, and then intolerant. She was thrown out for her unacceptable adherence to Jewish life. This is a true story, and really, nothing new. It should not have surprised Sarah, but it did. And it shouldn’t surprise the rest of us either.

-Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauerrman
“Signals: The Interfaithfulness Newsletter”
from May 12, 2014

St. dominic
Saint Dominic

I know Evangelicals are going to point out that Dominicans (Roman Catholics) were responsible for rejecting Sarah’s Jewish observance, but imagine how a Jewish believer would be received in a Protestant church if she were to continue significant Jewish observance such as kashut and Shabbat.

You might not think it would be an issue, but consider. Should “Sarah” show up at your church for a communal meal, how would you feel if she passed up the ham and took a salad instead? What if she kept an even more strict form of kosher and wouldn’t eat unless the meal had been prepared in a kosher kitchen (which church kitchens and Christian homes would not possess)? How would you feel if “Sarah” visited your home for a Bible study on Friday afternoon but after sunset, chose to walk back to her home and even refused a ride from you because it was Shabbat? You might be amused for a while but I suspect, like the Dominicans in the tale above, amusement would give way to annoyance and finally, intolerance. We haven’t come so far from the writings and attributes of Ignatius after all.

The Church has much to repent of.

Note: For those who feel I’m being overly hard on the Christian Church, especially the modern community of Christ, please continue to read. I’ll address this matter further at the end of today’s blog post.


It is likely, as Schoedel states, that the identification of Christ as the word from silence refers to the supposed inability of the Jews to understand their own religious tradition: the appearance of Christ from silence brings the divine hidden purpose to light. The radical “Christianization” of the prophets is one indication of how profound this inability is, and how extensive the hostility is between Judaism and Christianity.

-Zetterholm, pg 220

Dovetailing on my previous statement, the modern Church still gives religious and even secular Jews reason to question their (our) motivation for any form of approach to them. My experience tells me that most often, Jews are politely cautious when a Christian enters Jewish religious or social space or conversely, invites them into our space. We speak of “interfaith relationships” or “interfaith events” but there really is no such thing as a “Judeo-Christian” shared experience. The minute those two concepts entered the world, they existed in opposition to one another.

Why should Jews trust Christians? Why shouldn’t organizations such as Jews for Judaism believe there is a (perceived) threat represented by the Christian Church, including organizations like Jews for Jesus?  I’m not saying Jews for Jesus is a bad organization and that the Church is necessarily an active threat against Jewish faith and practice, but the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If you want to know how the Church is going to act toward Jews in the future, look at Church history.

I’m saying that Jewish people have a reason to be dubious about Christianity and that all began nearly two-thousand years ago. Sadly, Jews and Christians really do have a shared history but it’s not a positive one.

The Church has much to repent of.

Note: This doesn’t mean that Judaism in all its expressions is perfect or hasn’t made it’s mistakes, but rarely is Judaism in a position as an extreme minority in our world to “throw its weight around,” so to speak. Through the vast majority of the history of the Jewish people, they’ve been much too busy just trying to survive.

Hebrew Roots

This is an “umbrella category” designed to cover just about any Gentile Christian organization, small group, or fellowship that specifically identifies itself as seeking the “Hebrew roots” of the Christian faith and who adopt an altered theology, doctrine, and practice based on some sort of “Hebraic” perspective on the Bible.

It’s probably unfair of me to treat Hebrew Roots as a single entity given what I’ve just said, since it is comprised of so many divergent groups and attitudes, but then, that’s pretty much true of Christianity and Judaism as well.

Praying with tefillinOne of the (more or less) commonalities within Hebrew Roots is the belief that Hebrew/Jewish practices are also incumbent upon any Gentile who is a believer in Jesus. This usually includes some sort of practice based on modern synagogue worship including praying with a siddur, donning of a tallit gadol (for men, usually), wearing a kippah (again, usually for men), and other acts that superficially create the impression that these Hebrew Roots practitioners may be Jewish.

We saw in Zetterholm’s book that Gentiles participating in the ancient Jewish synagogue of “the Way,” were sometimes mistaken as Jews due to their association with Jews and likely many of their practices and lifestyle behaviors, so it’s possible to extrapolate that situation into modern Hebrew Roots. But there’s a problem. In ancient times, Gentiles adopted some Jewish practices and behaviors because they were operating within a Jewish religious and social context and were being mentored by Jewish teachers and synagogue leaders. Hebrew Roots operates in total separation from Jewish community and often is denigrating of much of Rabbinic Judaism.

Hebrew Roots tends to believe they practice a form of “Biblical Judaism” as opposed to “Rabbinic Judaism,” and as a result, they reject many of the practices and conceptualizations that are associated with modern or historic Judaism. In this, they somewhat mirror the original Church Fathers who separated their own practice from Jewish authority and community, creating a self-sustaining entity that by necessity, operated in opposition to the normative Judaisms of its day.

Like many Evangelicals, many Hebrew Roots groups have sort of “love/hate” relationship with modern Judaism, mainly because of Rabbinic Judaism’s insistence that they have the right to make internally binding rulings and the ability to govern their own communities.

Note: Hebrew Roots has a lot of different expressions, some of which are truly serving God, helping others, and teaching the good news of Messiah. I worshipped with one such group for many years and my companions were Godly and humble people. But Hebrew Roots is kind of like the “wild west,” where anything can happen and where anyone with a kippah and a theological ax to grind can dub themselves a “Messianic Rabbi” and draw a following. Be cautious.

Messianic Judaism

Like the other groups I’ve discussed above, there is no single, monolithic organization called “Messianic Judaism”. All Messianic Jewish groups have certain things in common, but the details of their theology, doctrine, and practice are variable.

One thing all Messianic Jewish groups (at least in the U.S.) have in common is the majority of their members are not Jewish. The ancient Antiochian Synagogue of the Way, while “owned and operated” by a Jewish leadership and Jewish teachers, was also inclusive of Gentiles, though there’s no way to determine the ratio of Jews to Gentiles in their midst.

Messianic Judaism, for this reason, faces some or even most of the same challenges as did the apostle Paul’s mixed Jewish/Gentile Jesus-believing communities, principally the issue of integration. As my previous blog posts on Antioch, Zetterholm, and Nanos attest, the issue of integration was of paramount importance and at the same time, hotly contested (see Galatians 2 for example).

That the Gentile Jesus-believers were included in the New Covenant blessings and part of the soteriological system of Judaism was not in question, especially to Paul, but the nature of their role and participation in a Jewish community and religious stream was still problematic. The Acts 15 ruling aside, we don’t really know how day-to-day life in the Messianic synagogue among Jewish and Gentile co-participants was negotiated.

That’s a question Messianic Judaism is trying to answer today as well.

We see from Zetterholm that, given the right social and political pressures, this could all blow up in their (our) faces (again). It’s one of the arguments in support of a concept Rabbi Mark Kinzer introduced called Bilateral Ecclesiology. Zetterholm seems to believe that James the Just, the brother of Messiah and leader of the Council of Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem supported an ancient version of Bilateral Ecclesiology, the establishment and maintenance of separate communities of Jews and Gentiles in Messiah.

Ironically, that’s exactly what happened historically, but with disastrous results.

judeo-christianBut that’s unfair and untrue. That’s not exactly what happened. Kinzer’s Bilateral Ecclesiology (and presumably James’) assumes that the separate Jewish and Gentile communities exist in a complementary fashion, sharing a common theology and doctrine (but not identical practice), maintaining a cordial but distant relationship with one another, while supporting the right of each group to maintain their own identity within an exclusive space. History has shown that the relationship between ancient Christianity and Messianic Judaism was anything but complementary and cordial, although distance was created, maintained, and expanded, usually due to animosity.

We noted above that Ignatius in Phld. 6:2 connected Judaism with the activities of “the prince of this world,” and that he in Magn. 8:1 probably used popular prejudice against the Jews in describing Judaism as being based on myths and fables.

It is well known that, in the decades after the death of Ignatius, Christian literature abounds in developing anti-Semitic themes.

-Zetterholm, pg 210

Zetterholm believes Paul opposed James’ view on separate Jewish and Gentile space in Messiah and that he believed in a shared community of Jewish and Gentile Jesus-believers. That said, shared space and social community doesn’t equal shared identity, role, and responsibility and that’s the rub. Did Paul have a clear vision of exactly how Jews and Gentiles were to exist in community with each other in all the details?

The Didache might be one possible answer to that question since one suggested origin for this teaching is with the apostles or those close to the apostles. The Didache may have started out as an oral teaching that accompanied the spread of the “Jerusalem letter” (Acts 15) among the diaspora Gentiles in community with Jesus-believing Jews.

Note: As I’ve mentioned above, Messianic Judaism includes a variety of different approaches to how a Jew may be a disciple of the Jewish Messiah and continue to be an observant Jew. In the days of Peter and Paul, this was a given. No one wondered how this was possible, it was simply understood. The problem was how to integrate Gentiles. That’s the problem today as well, and responses run the gamut from Jews-only Messianic groups to full social inclusion of Jews and Gentiles in the synagogue. I think of Messianic Judaism as a work in progress. Also, keep in mind that many Hebrew Roots groups call themselves “Messianic Judaism,” however once in, the distinction is obvious.


So here we are. The Church, if possessing any belief that it somehow has replaced the Jewish people and national Israel in the covenant promises, continues to have much to answer (to God) for. The Church has much to answer for if it continues to oppose Jews who have faith in Messiah and continue to observe the mitzvot of the Torah of Moses. Thankfully, an increasing number of churches are accepting Jesus-believing Jews who are Torah observant Jews, but we have a long way to go.

Hebrew Roots, while a noble effort to attempt to recapture what Jesus-believing Gentiles lost with the ascension of Gentile Christianity and the (ultimate) collapse of Jewish Jesus-faith, often chooses to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. In trying to recapture and apprehend ancient Hebraic practices and implement them in the modern era, they many times utilize modern Rabbinic worship practices while rejecting historic and modern Rabbinic Jewish rulings and even fail to acknowledge the Jewish community’s right to self-govern and self-define. Gentile Christians seeking the Hebrew Roots of the faith might find a better model in those who have become known as Messianic Gentiles, but there are still many challenges involved when traveling that path, as I can personally attest.

Messianic Judaism continues to struggle forward toward not only its own identity, but the identity of the Gentiles in its midst and as the Apostolic record and Zetterholm’s research indicates, Messianic Judaism is characterized, in part, by the communal inclusion of the Gentiles. Perhaps they would have eventually developed a “bilateralness” in relationship with each other, but that doesn’t seem to have been what Paul was trying to create.

I offer no solutions to any of this, but if you think you have any, I invite you to comment. We may never know what would have happened if Paul’s vision of the mixed Jewish/Gentile ekklesia had been realized, but given our current situation, we’re obligated to take the next step forward, whatever that might be.

Notes on the Church

ChurchI know I’ve laid the lion share of the responsibility for the Jewish/Gentile split within the body of Jesus-believers at the feet of the then new religion called “Christianity.” Further, I continue to assign responsibility to the modern Church for its long history of abuses against Jewish people and Judaism. Am I being unfair? I suppose you could say so.

And yet, next Sunday at the church I attend, the Bible class being held after services will be teaching on Acts 21:15-26 and the class study notes pay special attention to the following verse:

You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law… (emph. mine)

Acts 21:20 (NASB)

To me, this speaks of the thousands of Jesus-believing Jews in Jerusalem who all gave glory to God and were zealous for the Torah of Moses. But my teacher quotes John MacArthur in saying:

“Nowhere in the New Testament are the Jewish believers condemned for observing them (the so-called “ceremonial” aspects of the law). Paul nowhere taught Jewish Christians to abandon their Jewish heritage. God Himself was tolerant during this period of transition, knowing how difficult it was for them to break with their past.”

It never occurs to MacArthur, or to any of the Evangelical church Pastors or their lay staff, or to the congregations of all those churches, that the reason they don’t see God being critical of Jewish Jesus-believers performing the Torah mitzvot wasn’t “tolerance.” It was because God expected Jewish Torah observance as a matter of covenant obedience. It wasn’t an aberration or some quaint set of customs that Jewish people had a tough time letting go of, it was their very lifeblood, the linkage between God and the Jewish people, more so than ever with the realization that the Messiah was the inauguration of the living fulfillment of all of God’s promises to Israel.

Even in the most Israel-friendly, Jewish people loving churches, this attitude still remains, in spite of a great deal of scholarly evidence to the contrary. This is what the Church yet has to repent of and so far, they don’t even see the problem.

More’s the pity.

If “Sarah” were to show up in my Bible class next Sunday and give her interpretation of Acts 21:20, how would she be received? I don’t know how far to push in class over the troubling interpretation of this single bit of scripture (and it’s wider implications), but how can I remain silent in the face of everything I’ve just written?

Addendum: And then there are rather disturbing current trends in Christianity, such as the one presented at the Rosh Pina Project about who is expected to speak at Bristol Baptist College.

Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and “Honey, I Want a Divorce”

This chapter will present a suggestion as to how the theologically motivated social division between Jesus-believing Jews and Jesus-believing Gentiles, combined with socio-political circumstances, brought about a separation between the communities. It will be argued that this process, which eventually resulted in the emanation of a new religion, was the result of a conscious strategy that can be compared to other expressions of collective action, such as tax rebellions, political uprisings, revolutions or, in short, social movements.

-Magnus Zetterholm
Chapter 5: “Politics and Persecution,” pg 178
The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity

This is the fourth but not quite the last installment in my investigation (see my ending comment below) of the schism between (Messianic) Judaism and Gentile Christianity based on the “Antioch Incident” (Galatians 2:11-21) and the general development of the “Synagogue of the Way,” which was characterized by a mixed Jewish/Gentile population of equal co-participants, in mid-first century CE Syrian Antioch.

See my three prior blog posts, Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch and Today’s Messianic Judaism, Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem of the Gentiles, and Nanos, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem with Peter for details.

The title of my (almost) final missive in this series seems whimsical and on one level, that’s intentional, but it also reflects the intensity of the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Jesus-believers in the Antiochian synagogue, both in intimate fidelity and in the excruciating agony of separation. Anyone who has experienced a “difficult” divorce or who has seen another couple go through one realizes that as much as the couple loved each other in the beginning, that is the same level of anger and even hate they experience at the end of their marriage.

But why the “divorce?”

Evangelical Christianity (and most likely all forms of the Christian faith) assume that Christianity naturally, intentionally evolved from (Messianic) Judaism. Popular Evangelical Preachers such as John MacArthur believe that Judaism as a religious practice was intended by God to be temporary and to be replaced by the Christian Church. Any indication that Paul or the other Jewish apostles and disciples continued in any of the Jewish practices is considered to represent a “transitional period,” where the last generation of Jewish Jesus-believers in Judaism gave way to the following generation of Jewish and Gentile Christians, all liberated from “the Law” and basking in the free gift of salvation by the grace of Jesus Christ.

Zetterholm approaches the issue from a completely different direction, one that takes into account socio-political motivations, more like the Boston Tea Party objecting to “taxation without representation” than a Divinely planned shift in theology that “jumps the track” from Judaism to Christianity.

Can we treat the relationship between the early Jesus-believing Jews and Gentiles as a human and social dynamic and conflict and still retain the involvement of God in human history? On the one hand, it seems almost “sacrilegious” to do so. On the other hand, none of the people in the Bible are mere pawns of God used in a game to illustrate grand principles and theologies so much as they are living human beings struggling to understand who they are in relation to each other and God. I think we can afford Paul, Peter, James and everyone else involved in Antioch the dignity of being treated as real people instead of “Bible characters.”

What we are considering is what sort of conflicts would have naturally led to such a Jewish/Gentile split in the Messianic community in Antioch and the other diaspora communities of the Way. One such conflict suggested by Zetterholm (pp 178-9) is legal. While Judaism was considered a legal religion in the Roman empire, did the empire consider Gentile involvement in Judaism, not as proselytes or even God-fearers, but as Gentile co-participants who were required to remain Gentile as a valid association?

Another issue to consider is that, as Judaism became less favorable in the eyes of the Empire and began to encounter persecution, what was the impact of Gentiles being swept along in the anti-Jewish fervor as were the Jews, or conversely, treated differently and maybe more positively than the Jews within the same Jewish space?

The war against Rome ended in catastrophe and with the fall of the temple in 70 CE it was essentially over.

The end of the war had, of course, drastic and immediate political consequences. The most important for the present analysis was the institution of the poll tax fiscus Judaicus, which was founded shortly after the end of the war by Vaspasian.

-Zetterholm, pg 185

Temple TaxIn some ways, this tax very much identified one as a Jew since it was only imposed on Jewish populations. On the other hand, can we say the tax was also imposed on those who were Gentiles in the synagogue or those who “appeared”  to be Jews due to their practices and affiliation with Jewish community, or were the Gentiles in the Jesus-believing synagogue (and Gentile God-fearers in all synagogues) spared because they were not ethnically Jewish?

Either way, and we can’t be certain which one was more likely to have occurred, we can see the potential for conflict. Should the former be true, the Gentiles might well resent it since after all, they not only aren’t Jewish but based on Paul’s letter the Galatians, they are at least highly discouraged if not absolutely forbidden to formally convert to Judaism via the proselyte rite. Why should they pay a tax if they weren’t ethnically Jewish?

On the other hand, if the Gentiles in Jewish community were not taxed because they were Gentiles (which only seems fair), would the Jews in the same synagogue resent them for their lack of solidarity with their teachers and mentors, the very people of which Jesus said “salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22)?

Zetterholm states (pp 188-9) that this period (and lots of subsequent historical periods) saw a general rise in anti-Semitism which likely spilled over onto the Gentiles who, by virtue of their association in the synagogue community, looked like Jews. This would have included Gentile God-fearers in the various diaspora synagogues and God-fearers, as previously stated, were thought to be polytheistic and continued to participate in the various pagan cults in Greek society for social and business (and perhaps personal) purposes. What of the recent “converts” of Gentiles from paganism to Jesus-faith? Could a surge in anti-Jewish sentiments result in them falling away or “cheating” by continuing to or reverting to pagan practices to “take the heat off” them?

M. Goodman, however, has argued that, in the period before the fiscus Judaicus was imposed, there existed a certain confusion about who was Jewish and who was Gentile, and that the fiscus Judacus promoted the development of a more stringent Jewish identity.

-ibid, pg 192


…there was every reason to assume that the Jewish community knew exactly who was Jewish and who was not.


So from an outsider’s point of view (Roman/Greek), it might be hard to tell sometimes who was Jewish and who wasn’t within the Jewish community, but of course, inside the community itself, everyone knew. The community of Messiah knew that they had a responsibility to separate itself from pagan society for the sake of God, but within that community, barriers were growing. In my previous missive on this topic, I presented the point of view of Nanos that Paul considered the Gentile Jesus-believers as equal co-participants in synagogue life, even to the level of community meals, as well as those who also received the covenant blessings of atonement and redemption in the same matter as the Jews.

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

Acts 15:8-9 (NASB)

However, thanks to outside pressure being brought to bear against all diaspora Jewish communities, that seems to have changed, at least potentially.

As a member of the Pauline Jewish community in Antioch, a Gentile was part of the soteriological system of Judaism to a degree never experienced before. Through Christ, Gentiles were incorporated into a covenantal system that provided salvation without prior conversion to Judaism. Non-conversion to Judaism was a necessary condition.

-ibid, pg 194

Magnus Zetterholm
Magnus Zetterholm

While that seems like terrifically good news, it comes with a cost. According to Zetterholm, the halachah regarding Gentile involvement in the Jesus-believing synagogue was likely more strict upon the Gentiles than it was on Gentile God-fearers in other synagogues. While strict Torah observance in the manner of the Jews was not imposed, the Acts 15 legal edict applied to the Jesus-believing Gentiles went above and beyond the Noahide requirements observed by God-fearing Gentiles, so Gentiles in Messiah would be forbidden to participate in any other societal religious obligation by worshiping in the pagan temples.

Gentile Jesus-believers weren’t an island. Although the requirements of the Messianic community were to separate from the pagan nations (mirroring the “chosenness” of all Jewish communities vis a vis the nations of the world), they still would have had pagan family members, friends, business partners and associates, and so forth, who would or could be making life difficult for them.

There is also the issue of Gentile status within the Jesus-believing Jewish religious stream. As previously pointed out, there may have been a strong disagreement between Paul and James regarding the equality or inequality of Gentiles in the Way, with James representing the extreme opposite position of Paul by advocating for separate religious/social communities for Jews and Gentiles. Also, Zetterholm believes it was possible that, subsequent to the Antioch incident and Peter’s pulling away from the Gentiles, the non-Jews may have been “demoted” in terms of social status (but not necessarily ultimate soteriological destiny) to that of God-fearers.

Citing Nanos (The Mystery of Romans, 289-336)…

…that Romans 13:1-7 refers to the subordination of the Jesus-believing Gentiles to the synagogue authorities and not, as usually assumed, to the civic Roman authorities. If he is correct, this was certainly motivated by theological considerations, but at the same time, Paul shows here awareness of the religious/political implications of theology that prevents Gentiles from participation in the official cult.

-ibid, pg 195


The Jesus-believing Gentiles were certainly considered to be embraced by the final salvation, through Christ, as Gentiles, but outside the covenant. This led not only to a theological distinction, but also to a social separation between Jesus-believing Jews and Jesus-believing Gentiles. The Jesus-believing Gentiles became reduced to the status of Jesus-believing God-fearers.


The actual comprehension of the status of Jesus-believing Gentiles in Jewish community and in terms of “final salvation” is contingent upon a correct understanding of how Gentiles were (and are) involved and included in the blessings of the New Covenant, and coming to a correct understanding isn’t easy to do. Those details are beyond the scope of the current discussion, (See D.T. Lancaster’s What About the New Covenant lecture series, produced by First Fruits of Zion [FFOZ]).

I don’t necessarily believe that the Gentiles were reduced to a lesser status in the Messianic synagogue in Antioch or the diaspora based on the Galatians 2 encounter. Paul vehemently opposed Peter’s action and the other Jews who sided with his hypocrisy, and since the vast majority of diaspora Jesus-believing communities were established by and (presumably) answerable to Paul, it would seem like Paul’s authority and perspective would be “calling the shots.”

Mark Nanos
Mark Nanos

That said, if Nanos is indeed correct, then Paul’s perspective supported Gentile subordination to Jewish synagogue authority. Of course any member of a synagogue, Jewish or Gentile, would be expected to submit to the authority of the synagogue leaders, but the implication is that Gentiles may have had a “one down” role in terms of their Jesus-believing Jewish counterparts. Also, Nanos believes that the Roman synagogue(s) hosting Jesus-believing Gentiles contained Jews who were Jesus-believers and those who were not, adding additional pressure and a feeling of dissonance. It’s one thing to submit to Jesus-believing Jewish authorities, but why defer to authorities who denied the Lordship of Messiah Yeshua?

Thus, while Paul supported the Gentiles as equal co-participants in synagogue social interactions as well as the final salvation based on receiving New Covenant blessings, with Gentiles not having full membership in the Old or New Covenants as made by God with “the house of Isarel and the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:27), he likely considered it part of their “normal” legal status (see Acts 15) to subordinate in some sense, to Jewish authority in the Jewish community and religious setting, or as George Orwell famously wrote in his novel Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Jesus-believing Jews never imagined questioning their own relationship with God through the covenants and their participation socially, religiously, and in every other way in community and final salvation was assumed. Jesus-faith was simply the logical, natural extension of everything that had come before. Of course with the death and resurrection of Messiah, the New Covenant promises were inaugurated and though not yet fully realized, this was the good news the Jewish people and the nation of Israel was waiting for.

Gentiles, on the other hand, while also assumed to be included, both due to the revelations given Paul by Messiah and by the testimony of the Prophets of old, the mechanism by which this was to be accomplished wasn’t entirely clear (see all of the incidents of Jewish opposition to Paul’s message in the New Testament) and the exact role and status of Jesus-believing Gentiles in Jewish community always seems somewhat “up in the air.”

So on the one hand, Gentile involvement in Jewish community made Gentiles vulnerable to Greek and Roman anti-Semitism which could include financial burdens as well as physical violence because they were either mistaken for Jews or were seen as “collaborators” with the Jewish “enemy.” On the other hand, Gentiles in Jewish community, if they felt at all devalued or of a lesser social or even covenant status than the Jesus-believing Jews, could have felt resentment against their Jewish mentors and even against Jews in general. Either way (or both), the Gentiles may have increasingly felt as if they were stuck in the middle with no way out, unless they apostasized and left Jesus-faith. The opposite act of fully converting to Judaism was, as I said above, strongly discouraged if not forbidden, at least by Paul.

…if one embraced a theology that made Gentile identity a necessary condition for salvation, but at the same time required a Jewish definition in order for it to be maintained…

-ibid, pg 201

Zetterholm puts all this together and draws the conclusion that the Jesus-believing Gentiles, seeking a “rational” resolution to this increasing tension, decided they would…

…have to disassociate themselves from Jesus-believing Jewish community in order to acknowledge their true Gentile identity…

-ibid, pg 202

And from this follows…

that the parting of the ways in Antioch was primarily a separation — not between “Judaism” and “Christianity” — but between Jewish and Gentile adherents to the Jesus movement.


This gives rise to the thought that in the late first century to the early second century, there were wholly separate communities of Gentiles and Jews who were both Jesus-believing, but each community possessed a very different theology and dogma relative to their belief and practice, positions that would be opposed to one another, setting each community ultimately against each other. That’s about as “bilateral” as you can get.

Ignatius of Antioch is one of the first authors within the Jesus movement who writes from a perspective clearly outside Judaism. In Ignatius’ world, the separation between Judaism and Christianity had to some extent already taken place. This is not to say that the separation process was completed, but, in the symbolic world of the bishop in Antioch, Christianity was, or at least should be, a non-Jewish movement.

-ibid, pg 202

Ignatius of AntiochIt’s generally believed that Ignatius lived from 35 CE to 107 CE (See “Ignatius” in The Westminster Dictionary of Church History, ed. Jerald Brauer [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971]) and that he was a disciple of the Apostle John (See “The Martyrdom of Ignatius” and “Synaxarium: The Martyrdom of St. Ignatius, Patriarch of Antioch”), which is a shocking revelation. How could a disciple of Christ’s beloved John turn his back on everything he had been taught, virtually spitting in his Master’s face? It would be like Titus or Timothy betraying Paul or Peter betraying Jesus (oh, wait). How sharper than a serpent’s tooth (see Shakespeare’s “King Lear”).

A mere eighty or ninety years after the death and resurrection of Christ, we see Ignatius all but throwing stones at the empty tomb and mocking the Messiah’s devotion to Israel, the Temple, and his dear “lost sheep of Israel,” the Jews.

Zetterholm quotes Ignatius (pg 203) from Magn. 10:3 stating that:

“[i]t is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practise Judaism.”

This created quite a problem among the Jesus-believing Gentiles (pg 205) according to Zetterholm, with some (many) defecting from Jewish to Gentile Jesus-believing communities while others remaining within Jewish community. For their own protection, both from the newly minted Gentile Christians and from participation in the official pagan cult, the Gentiles in Jewish community actively pretended to be Jewish and took on behavioral roles as Jews, donning a Jewish “disguise” as it were, with…

…no intention of leaving messianic Judaism for a Gentile religion stripped of almost every Jewish influence except the idea of Messiah and the Holy Scriptures of the Jews.

ibid, pp 205-6

Zetterholm identifies two major sources of conflict at this point in history (pg 207):

  1. One in connection with separation from Jesus-believing Jewish community.
  2. The other connected to the role of being a challenger and the efforts to get back into the polity, but on equal terms with the other members of the polity.

At the heart of the conflict was:

…the Gentile adherents’ frustration at being reduced to Gentile god-fearers and being trapped in the religious/political system without any possibility of expressing their true religious identity, that is, as covenantal partners, triggered the social movement of separation.


This is where the “Honey, I want a divorce” part comes to full bloom. The Jesus-believing Gentiles not only separated from Jesus-believing Jewish community to form their (our) own communities, but they actively turned on their former hosts and benefactors, “demonizing” the Jewish people and Judaism, giving birth to the ugly “twins” of Christian supersessionism and Christian anti-Semitism that we continue to see in some churches today.

We noted above that Ignatius in Phld. 6:2 connected Judaism with the activities of “the prince of this world,” and that he in Magn. 8:1 probably used popular prejudice against the Jews in describing Judaism as being based on myths and fables.

It is well known that, in the decades after the death of Ignatius, Christian literature abounds in developing anti-Semitic themes.

-ibid, pg 210

Zetterholm provides evidence (pp 211-224) that Ignatius either used a proto-Mattean document or the actual gospel of Matthew against the Jesus-believing Jews and Jews in general, citing Matthew’s clear in group/out group” perspective (pg 212) as we find in Matthew 7:21-23 and 13:47-52, also leveraging the (apparent) disdain Jesus had with the Pharisees to magnify Gentile Christian rejection of all Jews (Jesus-believing and non-believing Jews alike).

One theme that is specially developed in much Christian Adversus Iudaeos literature is that the Jews had misunderstood their own Holy Scriptures and as a result, had lost the right to them.

-ibid 220

And if that isn’t enough to make your blood boil…

It is likely, as Schoedel states, that the identification of Christ as the word from silence refers to the supposed inability of the Jews to understand their own religious tradition: the appearance of Christ from silence brings the divine hidden purpose to light. The radical “Christianization” of the prophets is one indication of how profound this inability is, and how extensive the hostility is between Judaism and Christianity.


This is where we get the astounding departure in interpretation between normative Judaism and Christianity in our world today, based, as I’ve said, on a two-thousand year old mistake, except Zetterholm says it wasn’t a mistake and it wasn’t a misunderstanding. The schism was a calculated and deliberate set of acts designed to manufacture a new religion for the Jesus-believing Gentiles called “Christianity.” This new religion, by absolute necessity, was to be all but completely detached from its mother faith of Judaism and further, must establish itself as the “true Israel” of God, forcing an abandonment of the Jewish people, Judaism, and Israel by her own Creator in favor of the “Law-free” Gentiles.

Christian and JewishAs I said above, for a time, you would have had a world where separate Jesus-believing Christian Gentile and Jesus-believing Jewish communities would have operated in the same historical and geographical space. While Zetterholm feels some Hellenized Jews may have chosen to defect to Gentile Christianity, these would have been the Jews who, as were mentioned previously would have left ethnic and religious Judaism anyway.

There were likely Gentiles who hung on in the Jewish communities but as the decades passed, subsequent generations would have left Jewish community for either Gentile paganism or Gentile Christianity. Finally, the community of Jewish believers in Messiah would have dissolved as well if, for no other reason, than to avoid even the faintest association with the Gentile Christians who now actively disdained, despised, and “demonized” all Jews everywhere.

Since this blog post is exceptionally long, I’ll save the conclusion and implications of Zetterholm’s book on the modern Christian Church as well as the Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots movements for a later time.

Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem of the Gentiles

In spite of this disheartening picture of the relations between Jews and Gentiles in Antioch there is, rather surprisingly, evidence of Gentiles who felt drawn to Judaism.

More relevant for the present discussion is whether there was a group of Gentiles with a clear interest in Judaism who may even have adopted several Jewish customs and who participated in the activities in the synagogue without having converted to Judaism.

-Magnus Zetterholm
Chapter 4: “Evidence of Interaction,” pp 121-2
The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity

This is both what Judaism has to offer and teach our confused and self-indulgent age. In the words of the psalmist, “Blessed are they who dwell in Your house.” (Psalm 145:1) The circuitous path away from the constricted focus on the self through the expansive world of the other. When we find renewal in the synagogue, we will have gained access to Judaism’s greatest boon: this-worldly salvation.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Holiness is a Communal Experience,” pp 431-2 (May 17, 1997)
Commentary on Torah Portion Emor
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

[This is a long “meditation.” Pour yourself a cup of coffee and give yourself the time to take it all in.]

This is something of a counterpoint to my previous blog post Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and Today’s Messianic Judaism. The prior write up was a look at the Judaisms operating in Antioch, including the “synagogue of the Way,” as they existed in the first century CE, through the lens of Zetterholm’s book and research. Today, we use the same lens to see how Gentiles were brought into this wholly Jewish religious stream, what the Jewish disciples understood about the social role of Gentiles, and how unconverted (to Judaism) Gentiles could participate in the New Covenant blessings.

It seems (and I’ve said this before) it wasn’t all that clear how to bring Gentile disciples into fellowship, and even among the Jews in the Way, opinions differed.

I’m going to focus on only part of this chapter, which is Zetterholm addressing “the Antioch incident” (Galatians 2:11-21) because the thirty some odd pages this author spends interpreting the conflict between Paul and Peter contains a great deal of commentary on the struggle to understand how Gentiles could be co-participants socially and benefit from Jewish covenant blessings without undergoing the proselyte rite and without being considered mere God-fearers (though God-fearers could not apprehend the covenant blessings).

Citing New Testament scholar J.D.G Dunn in his article The Incident at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-18), Zetterholm wrote:

Having evaluate[d] different exegetical alternatives, Dunn suggested that table-fellowship in Antioch involved observance of at least the basic dietary laws, since the Jesus-believing Gentiles were originally god-fearers. The men from James, shocked at what they regarded as too casual an attitude, demanded a higher degree of observance, especially with regard to ritual purity and tithing. According to Dunn, they referred to the earlier agreement made in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:1-10), where Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was agreed upon but where the specific issue of table-fellowship was never considered.

Zetterholm, pp 130-1

You’ll notice here that Dunn (apparently) believes in a “common Judaism” (see my previous article on Zetterholm) shared by all Jewish factions but variability in how to observe the mitzvot or at least to what degree to observe ritual purity customs within different synagogues of the Way. Zetterholm referencing Dunn states that it is likely the Jerusalem contingent, the home of James the Just, brother of the Master, and the core group of apostles and elders, held to a more strict observance of ritual purity than the Jews of the Way in Antioch.

Peter, as one of the original apostles of Jesus (Yeshua), may have originally held to the Jerusalem point of view, but his experiences with the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:28-29) modified that opinion. However, confronted with the more strictly observant emissaries from James, Peter gave in to peer pressure.

Notice, this doesn’t mean that Jews were eating non-kosher food, so the issue was about the competing halachot of the two Jewish communities relative to eating with Gentiles:

Dunn argued that this agreement in no way changed the obligation to torah observance for the Jesus-believing Jew.

According to Dunn, the reason why Peter suddenly withdrew from the table-fellowship was that “[h]e could not deny the logic of Jerusalem’s demand, that a Jew live like a Jew.” Continued table-fellowship could therefore lead to a severe loss of authority in relation to Jewish-Christian communities of Palestine.

-ibid, pg 131

J.D.G Dunn
J.D.G Dunn

I don’t know if I completely agree with Dunn’s and Zetterholm’s conclusion here regarding the compromise of authority, and it seems that Paul certainly didn’t think his halachah of table-fellowship with Gentiles was a problem based on his criticism of Peter. I do think this brings into sharp relief the potential differences between Paul and James, especially prior to the Acts 15 halachic ruling regarding the legal status of Gentiles in (Messianic) Judaism.

Of course Dunn isn’t the only New Testament (NT) scholar to have an opinion on this “incident.” P.F. Esler, according to Zetterholm, didn’t think it was a matter of the degree of observance but an outright halachic ban across the board on Jews eating with Gentiles, with perhaps only a few exceptions. From Esler’s perspective, this was a matter of the preservation of Jewish identity, which could only be maintained by a strict separation of Gentile and Jew with no table-fellowship between the two groups, period.

E.P. Sanders didn’t agree with either Dunn or Esler, and Zetterholm tends to favor Sanders’ viewpoint most of the time. Sanders didn’t think the issue had anything to do with ritual impurity, since most Jews are in a state of impurity (which has nothing to do with sin) most of the time, and must only be pure when participating in a Temple ritual. He also didn’t think it had much to do with social interactions, particularly in Antioch which, like other diaspora communities, required fairly free transactions between Jewish and Gentile inhabitants.

Sanders really did think it was the food, not that the Gentiles were insisting on eating ham, but the Gentile origin of the food itself was an issue. How could the Jews be sure that at least some of the meat hadn’t been sacrificed to idols?

I tend to think Dunn may have the most accurate perspective on the matter, especially given B. Holmberg’s opinion:

Holmberg suggested that James demanded a higher degree of observance not on the part of the Jesus-believing Gentiles but on that of the Jesus-believing Jews, and furthermore, a virtual separation of the Christian community into two commensary groups.

-ibid, pg 134

According to Holmberg, both Paul and James believed that the Gentiles benefited from the covenant blessings that issued from being grafted into the Jewish root, but their perspectives were different. While Paul advocated for Jewish and Gentile interaction and fellowship within the community of Messiah, James advocated for separate communities of Gentiles and Jews operating side-by-side rather than intermingled. This was to preserve the integrity of Jewish identity. Paul (according to Holmberg) disagreed.

To James and Peter, the Jerusalem agreement made no difference in how the Jesus-believing Jews related to torah, while Paul requested that the demands of a Jewish identity should cede to those necessary for maintaining a common Christian identity.


This isn’t to say that Paul was advocating for a Torah-free practice for the Jewish believers, but rather for a more lenient halchah relative to Jewish/Gentile fellowship and co-participation in worship and social interactions.

Rabbi Mark Kinzer
Rabbi Mark Kinzer

It’s interesting that Holmberg’s perspective on James, Peter, and the Jerusalem community maps at least somewhat to that of modern Messianic Jewish author and scholar, Rabbi Dr. Mark Kinzer who wrote the rather controversial book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People.  R. Kinzer advocates for a position called “bilateral ecclesiology,” which essentially establishes two communities within the body of Messiah, one for Jews and the other for Gentiles.

While many in the Church and in Gentile Hebrew Roots feel R. Kinzer’s position is a recent development, we see now that at least one NT scholar, Holmberg, suggests that it (or something very much like it) existed within the early Jerusalem Messianic ekklesia at the highest levels of leadership. What would this have said for Yeshua’s perspective on the matter?

We can’t know the answer to that one with any certainty, but it’s a compelling question. Yeshua rarely had dealings with Gentiles and stressed that he came “for the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). He only issued the directive to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28-19-20) after the resurrection and (shortly) before the ascension.

Just to summarize, the explanation behind the “Antioch incident” was the degree of ritual observance for Dunn, food for Sanders, social intercourse for Esler, and Jewish vs. Gentile identity (related to observance issues) for Holmberg. Depending on your theological preferences, you can choose the scholar that fits your perspective. I think we all tend to do that and I’m just as guilty of the practice as the next person. Hopefully, I can cut through some of that and present a reasonable case for my conclusions, such as they are.

Zetterholm said that the problem is…

…that the text contains several gaps that must be filled in through an act of interpretation. The fact that scholars put forward different and sometimes even contradicting suggestions to solve a given historical problem often emanates from the character of the text: what we want to know is simply not in the text but must be supplemented from outside the text world.


Not a very comforting thought, especially if you are a proponent of Biblical sufficiency.

I presented, in my previous blog post on Zetterholm, the nature of Jewish communities in Antioch and their implications for modern Judaism including Messianic Judaism. Now, I’m trying to solve the puzzle of how or if Gentiles could have been reasonably integrated into a Jewish community without compromising the Jewish nature and identity of that community. I think it’s clear Paul was convinced this was possible, but as history shows, it didn’t work out so well. I can only believe all this has profound implications for modern Messianic Judaism and the role of Messianic Gentiles within that Jewish context.

The issue for Paul in his letter to the Galatians was the Gentiles and encouraging them to maintain a Gentile identity within the Jewish Messianic movement, which did not require them to undergo the proselyte rite, become circumcised (males), and take on the full yoke of Torah observance. This is the same issue (Gentile role and status) within the Antioch synagogue (Acts 15:1), which most Christians would call “Paul’s home church.”

The challenge though, wasn’t just how to smooth over the wrinkles added by including Gentiles in a Jewish religious and social space, but how to understand the covenantal relationship (if any) Gentiles apprehended when they became disciples of the Master. I know in my own studies of the covenants, it is very clear how Jewish people and Judaism are in covenant with God, but Genesis 9 and Noah aside, when a Gentile comes into relationship with God through Messiah, just how does it work? There’s no clear and easy path in the text explaining it.

D. Thomas Lancaster
D. Thomas Lancaster

I came to my own peace with Gentile inclusion in the New Covenant about a year ago and more recently, in my multi-part review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s What About the New Covenant lecture series, I affirmed some of my convictions and discovered new information.

But what did this look like to the various groups inside of the Jewish Messianic movement in first century Antioch, or for that matter, from the perspective of James and the Council of Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem?

Based on various scriptures in the Tanakh (Old Testament) you could conclude that either Gentiles were cursed and would ultimately be wiped from the face of the Earth (for instance, Micah 5:9-15, Zephaniah 2:4-15), or that Gentiles had an eschatological future wherein at least some members of the nations and perhaps all nations would come into relationship with God and worship Him and Him alone (Isaiah 19, Isaiah 56:7, Zechariah 14:16).

From my point of view, I reconcile the opposing viewpoints in these texts by believing any nation (or any Gentile individual or group) which goes against Israel will ultimately be defeated by God and be cursed for cursing Israel, and any nation (or any Gentile individual or group) that joins with Israel in supporting her and her precious, chosen people, the Jewish people, will one day be called up to Jerusalem along with the returning Jewish exiles to worship God and to pay homage to the Jewish King.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “on the wrong side of history” in the news or social media recently, but applied to the Gentile nations and their relationship with Israel (for or against), those words take on a whole new meaning.

Believe it or not, I’m still talking about the Antioch incident, since how the Jews in the Way saw the Gentiles in relationship to the Jews, including socially and in the nature of their eschatology, was at the heart of the conflict.

If, however, we assume that he (Jesus) confirmed that Gentiles were to be embraced by the final salvation, it is not strange that within the early Jesus movement different concepts developed of how to relate to Gentiles and of how the actions of the god of Israel, through Christ, would also relate to the nations of the world.

-ibid, pg 140

Zetterholm, citing Sanders, said that the Jewish believers had no issue with Israel’s relationship with God since the Torah provides the means of atonement and…

…everyone living within the boundaries of the covenant and remaining in the covenant through obedience and atonement will be saved.



The soteriological system was, of course, for Jews only. Exactly how the Gentiles would be saved is less clear.


The Church today takes its status of being saved rather for granted, although I doubt most Christians have ever seriously studied the New Covenant and encountered the challenge of finding themselves anywhere in the text. If they did, they might have some small idea of what the Jewish believers were facing when trying to insert Gentiles into the Jewish community, short of formal conversion to Judaism.

Magnus Zetterholm
Magnus Zetterholm

Zetterholm is convinced, citing T.L Donaldson and others, that what was not required ultimately, was the need to circumcise Gentiles and have them brought under the Torah in the manner of the Jews. But since circumcision was tied directly into the covenant relationship, it remained a mystery (apparently) to the first Jesus-believing Jews, exactly what status and role uncircumcised Gentiles played in Judaism and in covenant (if any). Salvation comes from the Jews, but how?

The Acts 15 decision was designed to settle all of this and render “halakhic clarification”, since, as Zetterholm says (pg 144) it was believed that the end of the present age was at hand and Gentile status had to be settled quickly before the Messianic Era arrived.

Zetterholm puts Luke’s Acts and Paul’s epistles in tension with each other, believing that Luke may have represented Paul differently than Paul actually saw himself. Zetterholm believes that Paul’s epistles are a more valid representation of Paul and how he saw Gentiles in covenant with God, but that view, given the complexity of Paul’s letters, isn’t all that clear.

We do know that Paul did support the continuation of Torah observance for Jesus-believing Jews as a given while at the same time, did not impose said-Torah observance along with circumcision upon the Jesus-believing Gentiles.

It is clear that under no circumstances would Paul accept that the torah be imposed on the Jesus-believing Gentiles.

If Paul accepted the apostolic decree (Acts 15) was applicable to Jesus-believing Gentiles, this would not mean that he imposed torah on them, since, strictly speaking, the halakhah for righteous Gentiles or god-fearers was not the torah but something to be observed by Gentiles not having been blessed with the gift of the torah.

-ibid, pg 148

This doesn’t answer the question of how Gentiles are included in the covenant blessings, but makes clear that Paul, as Zetterholm understands him and agreeing with Mark Nanos, believed the Sinai covenant and its conditions outlined in the Torah, was not the covenant operating that provides salvation for the Gentiles and brings them into relationship with God.

I do want to say that Zetterholm seems to more strongly relate the Noahide Covenant (which Zetterholm says was fully documented in the Tannaitic period [10-220 CE]) with the status of Jesus-believing Gentiles than I would. The Noahide covenant defines a very basic relationship between God and all humanity (all flesh, really) but if that were it, then Gentiles wouldn’t need an additional covenantal connection to God that required faith in the Messiah. The New Covenant, though made only with Israel and Judah, I believe is also apprehended by Gentiles who are Jesus-believers (see Lancaster’s New Covenant lecture series for details).

Finally, through his very long and winding narrative, Zetterholm came to the same place where I have also arrived.

The inclusion of the Gentiles meant for Paul the inclusion in the covenant, since it was the covenant that provided the ultimate means of salvation. By connecting the inclusion of the Gentiles with the promise given to Abraham in Galatians 3:7-29, Paul interprets the salvation of the Gentiles in covenantal terms, since the promise given to Abraham is a covenantaly promise as stated in Genesis 15:18: “[o]n that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.”

-ibid, pg 157

Mark Nanos
Mark Nanos

This allowed Gentiles to remain Gentiles, remain uncircumcised, and to be accountable to a different set of conditions of covenant than the Torah (or conditions with some overlap), and yet be able to enjoy the blessings of a covenantal relationship with God. It was and is that Abrahamic faith in Messiah that opens the door to our drawing near to God in a way denied to the ancient God-fearers and the modern Noahides.

Zetterholm concludes that both James and Paul agreed the Gentiles enjoyed covenant blessings, but James…

…demanded a separation of the community into two commensality groups, one for Jews and the other for Gentiles, since too close social intercourse would have confused the boundaries between Jews and Gentiles.

-ibid, pg 166

Paul, on the other hand, declared:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 (NASB)

Zetterholm explains:

Paul, however, stressed that, “in Christ,” all distinctions between men become, on one level, superfluous. But here comes the paradox: this unity “in Christ” is arrived at only when the social distinction between Jew and Gentile is maintained. It is as “Jew” and “Gentile” that mankind becomes “one in Christ,” since the god of Israel is the god not only of the Jews, but of all humanity.

-ibid, pg 164

How does this speak to the relationship between Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles in community today?

If it seems like there’s been a lot of bickering, confusion, and debate over the status of non-Jews in the Jewish religious space called Messianic Judaism, but this is actually revisiting very old territory. It is, in some sense, a replay of what Paul went through in advocating for a Gentile presence as co-participants in Jewish community and fellowship, and in the covenant blessings of God. That the Gentiles are included in the New Covenant blessings, as difficult as that can be to trace down in the scriptures, isn’t the big problem, though.

The big problem is how to integrate Jews and Gentiles in Messiah in a religious, social, and halachic context. What role does the Messianic Gentile play in Messianic Jewish space? What are our obligations relative to Jewish obligations (which are far more clearly spelled out)? What does table-fellowship look like? Was James right in demanding social segregation between Jews and Gentiles, or is it more likely Paul, as Messiah’s special emissary to the nations, was correct in stating halachah should be constructed to allow closer social interaction and intermingling while still maintaining identity distinctions between the two groups?

Answering the ancient questions, if such a thing is possible, would also help answer our modern questions.

But while Paul was convinced within himself as to the intentions of God toward the nations in relationship with both God and Israel, others in the Way may not have been convinced. Zetterholm’s view of the Paul – James conflict is an educated opinion. At the level of the Christian sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, we all want to believe that the apostles were in complete unity with one another and that early “Christianity” presented a complete and undifferentiated whole within itself, only opposing the other Judaisms and pagan idol worship.

But what if Paul, Peter, James, and the rest were human after all? What if they disagreed, especially on such an emotionally hot-button topic as Gentiles within Judaism?

DaveningIf all that is true, it means we can look to the New Testament to help us understand what the problems are that we’re experiencing today, but no final solutions may be coming our way this side of the Messiah.

But as my quotes of Zetterholm and Schorsch at the very beginning of this missive testify, there is something about being in community that transcends all of the petty bickering. As a Gentile, I’m envious (I guiltily confess this) of Jews in a minyan, the reciting of the morning prayers, the special connectedness of synagogue life. Maybe it’s because I never quite feel integrated in the church. Maybe, like my first quotes above attest, I am one of those Gentiles who sees holiness in Jewish community, since that’s where we come from and I believe that’s where we’ll be returning to in the Messianic Kingdom.

For more on this and related topics, see my commentary on Shaye J.D. Cohen’s book From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Second Edition.