Tag Archives: Mark D Nanos

Book Review of Paul within Judaism, “The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates”

Jews practicing Judaism in the first century observed the rite of circumcision, so it may seem natural enough to conclude that Paul’s arguments depreciating, when not opposing, circumcision undermine the very idea that Paul should be interpreted as a representative of Judaism. But Paul’s position is much more nuanced than the readings on which the interpretive tradition’s conclusions depend; so too is the practice of the right within Judaism.

-Mark D. Nanos
from the beginning of his essay:
“The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates”
Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition)

So begins this rather lengthy article of Dr. Nanos’ on why, contrary to what is typically believed within Christianity today, Paul actually was a very good representative of the Judaism of his day, and why, again contrary to Christian tradition, Paul did support ritual circumcision of Jewish boys on the eighth day of life, though this was not required of non-Jewish boys, even among those families who were devoted disciples of Yeshua (Jesus).

Even if I were just to quote those passages in Nanos’ paper I highlighted as significant, this blog post might become almost as long as the original article. I will try to be brief and also to capture the essential points being made in this fourth submission to the “Paul Within Judaism” book (and yes, I realize it’s been quite some time since I’ve offered a review of this material).

Paul within JudaismIn real estate, the predominant credo is “location, location, location.” In Biblical exegesis, it’s “context, context, context”. Our traditional view of Paul relative to Judaism and circumcision (and most other things) tends to disregard that context, that is, the first century Jewish context in which the Apostle wrote, taught, and lived.

According to Nanos, viewed and read within that context, alongside “similarly qualified statements made by other Jews,” Paul always remained properly observant to the Torah of Moses and upheld circumcision of Jewish males as a continued sign of the Abrahamic covenant between the Jewish people and God.

If Paul opposed circumcision, it was specifically regarding the proselyte ritual to convert a non-Jew to Judaism, as was the tradition of his day (and ours).

I should make clear that, as Nanos writes, Paul did not object to non-Jewish practicing Judaism alongside ethnic Jews and converts, or at least he didn’t object to them behaving “Jewishly” within a Jewish social and community context. This did not require these Gentile disciples to become obligated to the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jewish people. Rather, for the sake of social discourse with their Jewish mentors as well as elevating the non-Jews’ spirituality and moral/ethical behavior to the level Hashem expects of those who were created in His Image, they behaved, as I have just said, “Jewishly,” or in a way that an outside observer might believe is “Jewish”.

Nanos slowly builds his arguments (which are too long to cite in detail here) regarding how we can read Paul and how the Apostle uses the term “circumcision,” “circumcised” (for a Jew), and “foreskinned” (for Gentiles including Gentile Yeshua disciples) to show that Paul supported (male) Jewish disciples being circumcised but not so the Gentile believers. Paul only was against circumcising Gentile Yeshua-disciples and fully supported the circumcision only of Jewish Yeshua disciples along with all other Jewish males.

The gospel’s chronometrical claim creates the basis for Paul’s resistance to circumcision of Christ-following non-Jews. He believes that now they must represent those from the other nations turning to the One God of Israel, and thus, that they must not become Israelites…

Nanos turns to a story related by Josephus, the narrative about the circumcision of the non-Jew Izates, King of Adiabene. Rather than attempt to familiarize you with that story from Nanos’s full rendition, you can find a summary of the life and significant experiences of Izates, specifically his familiarity with and eventual conversion to Judaism, at Wikipedia (not the best of sources, but it will get you started…feel free to Google Izates for more).

In short, Izates, who was a contemporary of Paul, encountered a Jewish advisor named Ananias, who familiarized the young King with Judaism, so much so, that even without converting, Izates took on a number of “Jewish” behaviors and, to a casual observer, could have been mistaken for acting “Jewishly” if not being “Jewish”.

Ancient Rabbi teachingAnother advisor, Eleazar, told Izates that it was improper for him to study Torah without converting. Izates greatly desired to convert, but Ananias believed the King’s subjects would not accept the rule of a Jewish King (how ironic, since one day, the whole world will be ruled by a Jewish King, King Messiah).

Even uncircumcised, that is, as a Gentile, Izates (as well as his mother) were practicing a form of Judaism without being Jewish. And while the advice of Eleazar won out and the King did indeed convert, Nanos makes the point that both Paul and Ananias held quite similar points of view, that it was unnecessary for a non-Jew to convert in order to worship “[sebein; literally , ‘honor,’ ‘respect,’ or ‘fear’] God without circumcision…”

Here’s an important point Nanos made:

…Izates had not yet given up his desire to become circumcised: thus Eleazar “urged him [Izates] to accomplish ‘the work’ [or ‘the rite,’ ton ergon].” Eleazar is a Jew from the Galilee, and likely a Pharisee…

Terms such as “the act,” “deed,” or “work” as we find in Paul’s writings on “the works of the law” (see Galatians 3:2 for example) specifically refer to the Apostle’s disapproval of Gentiles undergoing ritual circumcision for the purpose of conversion in order to be justified before God. Again, Paul’s “works of the law” had nothing to do with forbidding Jewish Yeshua-disciples from being circumcised nor was Paul preaching against Torah observance for the Jewish followers of Messiah.

Nanos quotes Josephus (quoting Eleazar) as outright stating that one must be a Jew in order to be obligated to the commandments of the Torah of Moses. In Eleazar’s case, the only way to resolve the conflict of a non-Jew even voluntarily observing some of the mitzvot was for him to “complete the act,” “rite,” “work” of conversion through circumcision.

Ananias, on the other hand, like Paul, saw devotion to God and observing a life of moral and ethical excellence as a Gentile was Izates’ proper response “apart from becoming a Jew, and thus, apart from becoming under Torah on the same terms as a Jew (a distinction that people of his [Itazes] kingdom are represented as grasping…).”

Nanos dovetails off of Josephus to re-engage Paul, stating:

Moreover, this raises interesting comparisons with Paul’s insistence that faith(fullness) for Christ-following non-Jews requires abstaining from becoming Jews through circumcision, while at the same time insisting that they turn away from cults associated with familial and civic gods, which would be expected to apply to themselves in most Jewish groups…

synagogueSo Paul expected that Gentiles as Gentiles behave “Jewishly” but not become Jewish. However behaving “Jewishly” does not mean they became Jews without a bris and were in any manner obligated to the 613 commandments as were/are the Jewish people, either born or converted.

Further:

Such unorthodox behavior creates for them [Yeshua-believing Gentiles] an anomalous identity leading to sociopolitical marginalization, both from Jews, who do not share their chronometrical gospel claim to be neither guests nor proselytes but full members alongside of Jews, and, for different reasons, from their non-Jewish families and neighbors. If even those who become proselytes may be regarded with suspicion as atheists and traitors, then likely all the more threatening would be those who remained non-Jews if they simultaneously claimed the right to abstain from honoring their fellow non-Jewish people’s gods and lords.

I suppose a brief explanation of the term “chronometrical gospel” is in order. As I understand it, the term refers to a time-based event in the overarching salvational plan of God for Israel and the nations, whereby with the first advent of Messiah ben Joseph, Gentiles were granted, for the first time in human history, the opportunity to be equal partakers in the blessings of the New Covenant (Jer. 31, Ezek. 36) without becoming Gerim as was required in the time of Moses, and having the third generation of their offspring being accepted as an Israelites (thus partaking in the Sinai covenant), or in first century (and later) times by undergoing the rite of the proselyte and converting to Judaism.

From the life, death, resurrection, and ascension onward, non-Jews were provided a new and better path by which we can swear fealty to God through the faithfulness of the Jewish Messiah King.

We also see from the above-quoted passage, that Yeshua-believing Gentiles were accepted as social equals and sharers of the New Covenant blessings of the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection, not only without being required to first convert, but without the identical obligation to perform the Torah mitzvot, an obligation that remains exclusive to born-Jews and proselytes.

Nanos brings up something especially relevant to the role of the “Messianic Gentile” today, the matter of identity ambiguity. Just like our first century counterparts, we modern Gentiles in Messiah, when within (Messianic) Jewish communal space, are not Jews but are also not allied with our former identities as non-believers. We are expected to take the moral high road, so to speak, and particularly in Jewish space, we say Jewish prayers (although our prayers are sometimes adapted due to us not being Israel), attend prayer services with Jews, attend the Torah service with Jews, eat kosher food when we dine with Jews, cover our heads when davening with Jews, and committing many other acts that look pretty “Jewish,” even though we are not Jews.

identityIn many ways, we are neither fish nor fowl, and the question of just what Messianic Gentile behavior actually is supposed to look like is often a matter of spirited debate.

Changing the discourse about Paul by adding a contextual tag to virtually every statement made about his standing on Jewish matters, such as the circumcision of non-Jews, is a good place to begin for those who are attempting to conceptualize Paul within Judaism…

It would be nice if our Bibles contained such “tags” to make Paul appear more within his own context to those of us reading him thousands of years later in a religious, cultural, and conceptual environment definitely outside of his original context.

Sadly, no such Bible exists (to the best of my knowledge), but Nanos does attempt to give us examples:

In the shortest sense, this could consist of no more than adding the phrase “…for Christ-following non-Jews” to statements made about them in order to avoid universalizing the matter under discussion.

And…

…such as, “for non-Christ-following Jews”

And again…

…by adding “for Christ-following non-Jews who are participating in Jewish communal life”

Or even…

“…who practice Judaism according to the teachings of Paul”

Or even better…

policy changes toward these non-Jews, hence… “for Christ-following non-Jews who practice Judaism according to the chronometrical claim of the gospel proclaimed by Paul and the other apostolic leaders of this Judaism.”

messianic judaism for the nationsYou get the idea. What would have been understood as a matter of course by the original readers of Paul’s epistles almost completely eludes lay-person, clergy, and Christian scholar (or most of them) twenty centuries later in our American churches, seminaries, and universities.

Getting back to the role of the ancient Messianic Gentile who was not expected to observe many/most of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, what God did (and does) expect of them (us)…?

…and Paul regarding what signifies faith(fulness) alone for non-Jews is striking…

Or in more detail:

This reasoning parallels Paul’s argument about Abraham’s becoming circumcised as a “sign” of his faithfulness (based upon Gen. 17:11); yet Abraham for Paul illustrates why faith(fulness) for Christ-following non-Jews is shown [specifically] by their [our] not becoming circumcised (Rom. 3:27-4:25; Gal. 3:1-4:7; passim). Paul insists that these non-Jews represent the children promised to Abraham from the other nations before he was circumcised…

…they [we] must remain non-Jews, that is, must not become members of Israel.

That, in a nutshell, so to speak, is the particular path of the ancient and modern Messianic Gentile. The evidence of our faith is to deliberately not become circumcised, that is, to avoid converting to Judaism, within the Messianic community or otherwise, and to fulfill our destiny as the children from the nations called by His Name, thus fulfilling the promise God made to Abraham about his gaining (faithful) children from the nations…that is, us.

By either converting, or unjustly claiming full obligation to the Torah as if we were converts without a bris, we are making a mockery of God’s promise to Abraham, and denying our own role as non-Jews in Messiah, further throwing God’s prophetic word back in His Face (as it were).

In contrast, Paul argues for faith(fulness) alone exclusive of circumcision as the decisive action for the Christ-following non-Jews he addressed, even though it came at the price of marginalization.

In other words, if you’re a Messianic Gentile and you at least sometimes feel marginalized, both in the Messianic Jewish world and in the Church among more traditional Christians (and I know what that feels like), that’s normal.

The Jewish PaulBut Nanos believes Paul was not seeking to bifurcate faith for the Gentile vs. actions/deeds for the Jews. Both Jews and Gentiles are saved by faith(fulness), but what is required by the faithfulness of the Gentiles does not include an identity transformation by becoming Jews and/or Israel. That identity is reserved and the faithful Jews are assigned obligations and duties not incumbent upon the Gentiles in Messiah.

Or as Nanos puts it…

Paul appeals to principle, not expedience. He defines the principle as faith(fulness) according to what is appropriate for them as non-Jews, which can be different in specific ways from that faith(fulness) might consist of for those who are Jews.

Bingo.

Hopefully, I’ve captured the essence of Nanos’ arguments. He tends to approach his core points from numerous different directions, and adding a great deal of detail that sometimes defies my ability to succinctly review him. Nevertheless, there are two major takeaways from this essay as I see it:

  1. Any statements made by Paul that appear to devalue or require the elimination of Torah observance and circumcision by all Yeshua-believers, when read within Paul’s original first century Jewish context, only apply to his non-Jewish audience, the Yeshua-believing non-Jews in the Messianic ekkelsia.
  2. Any statements made by Paul that appear to require full observance of the Torah commandments and circumcision by all Yeshua-believers, when read within Paul’s original first century Jewish context, only apply to his Jewish audience, the Yeshua believing Jews in the Messianic ekkelsia (although they would also apply to Jews who were not Yeshua-believers since all Jews have Jewish identity, being Israel, and obligation to the Torah of Moses at the core of their being Jews).

I’ll continue with my reviews as time allows.

Note: Edited at Portland International Airport using PDX’s free wifi and free electrical power in their business courtesy room.

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Book Review of Paul Within Judaism, “The Question of Terminology: The Architecture of Contemporary Discussions on Paul”

Over the last decade or so, more and more scholars of the New Testament have pointed to the need to re-think the terminology we use in our analyses as well as our teaching. Several terms have been asked to retire, as Paula Fredriksen has phrased it, and leave room for new words and expressions that may help us to better grasp what was going on in the first-century Mediterranean world, a time and culture very distant from our own.

Anders Runesson
from the beginning of his essay
“The Question of Terminology: The Architecture of Contemporary Discussions on Paul”
Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition)

George Orwell’s famous novel 1984 demonstrates very well that when you control a people’s language, you control how they think. If a population has no word for “riot” or for “liberty,” they will be unlikely to be able to conceive of, let alone operationalize those ideas.

So the words we use in understanding Paul affect how we think of Paul, his writing, his teaching, and how we conceptualize our Christian faith. Even the term “Christian faith” summons particular thoughts and ideas that Paul may not have (and probably didn’t have) in his possession at any time in his life.

It is said that interpretation begins at translation, the words in English (or whatever other language) we use to translate Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. How we translate the Bible and what terms we use to express “Christian” ideas are part of what Runesson calls the “politics of translation.” This suggests that any attempt to disturb the status quo of how the Bible is translated now and what terms and phrases are included will encounter resistance. If you change the term “Paul the convert to Christianity” to “Paul the Jewish emissary to the Gentiles,” the accompanying image of Paul immediately and dramatically changes.

In his article, Runesson focuses on two terms in English used in Biblical translations: “Christians” (including “Christianity”) and “church.”

He further states:

It will be argued that “Christians,” “Christianity,” and “church” are politically powerful terms that are inadequate, anachronistic, and misleading when we read Paul…

These terms serve the needs of the 21st century church but in doing so, wholly misrepresent Paul the Apostle and everything he ever wrote or taught. Both modern Christianity and modern Judaism receive the same image of the Apostle from this mistaken illustration of Paul, and while the Church hails the story of a Jewish Pharisee who converted to Christianity and taught new disciples to replace the Law with Grace, Judaism reviles him for the same reasons.

In discussing “translating history,” Runesson asks if we are “colonizing the past or liberating the dead?” America is a colonial nation and as we know from our own history, and that of other such empires, one colonizes a “new world” and an indigenous people by subjugating what was there before and reforming it to resemble the colonizing nation and the colonizing people.

If we (Gentile Christianity) have done so with the past, with Paul, with the Bible, then we aren’t interpreting Paul in any accurate manner. Rather than employing exegesis, or taking our meaning of the Biblical text from the original context of that text, we are performing eisegesis or overwriting the text by inserting our own meaning anachronistically and erroneously.

Luther
Martin Luther

I mentioned in my previous review some of the historical events surrounding men like Augustine and Luther in terms of their probable motives for rewriting Paul’s history and they aren’t all pretty. In that review, you will recall, I quoted Magnus Zetterholm as saying that it is the Christian Church that must change, that must adjust how it chooses to understand Paul, to be more historically accurate and Biblically sustainable.

Runesson states:

New insights are thus dependent on our willingness to de-familiarize ourselves with the phenomena we seek to understand…

We think we know Paul. We think we know Jesus (Yeshua). We think we are intimately familiar with the late Second Temple period in Roman occupied Judea, not because we read the Bible, but because we listen to the prevailing Christian doctrine about the Bible as preached from the pulpit and taught in Sunday school class.

We don’t truly comprehend how alien that ancient world really was, how few historical facts have survived from that time and place. We want to believe that if Paul miraculously appeared in one of our Evangelical churches today, he would immediately feel at home and provide us with a sermon of unparalleled insight (assuming he spoke a language we understood). In fact, even if he understood our language, he would have absolutely no idea what was going on and probably wouldn’t even understand that we are the descendants of the Gentile disciples he taught.

We need to learn to experience Paul as someone we’ve never met. We need to learn about him from that view. We need to stop creating Paul in our own image and cease colonizing the ancient near east of the Apostolic Scriptures.

As Runesson puts it:

Reconstructing and translating history inevitably begins and ends with language. When we defamiliarize ourselves with texts and other artifacts, we engage in a process of decolonizing the past, liberating the dead from the bondage of our contemporary political identities.

This he calls the “reconstruction of silenced voices.”

So how are we going to change the “architecture of the conversation?”

Terminological edifices are built slowly over time and are not easily torn down. Now-unsustainable scholarly ideas from previous eras influence current discourses…

It might be easier for you to pick up your car with your bare hands and lift it over your head than it would be to change a Christian’s time-honored and “sacred” traditions about the words they/we use to describe Paul.

We need, therefore, to reconsider and discuss not only the conclusions we draw, but also the “architecture” within which we formulate them.

Terminology is pregnant with meaning that often goes unnoticed in the analytical process, which it nevertheless controls from within.

The minute we use a term or set of terms to describe an idea, we have shaped the meaning of that idea, even unknowingly, into something that might be completely foreign to the person who originated that concept.

When we talk about New Testament scholarship in general and Paul in particular, it has been the convention to say that one is studying (earliest) “Christianity” and/or (the early) “Christians.” Already at this point we have framed the shape and thus the likely outcome of the discussion…

new testamentEven the term “New Testament” as contrasted with another term, “Old Testament” creates a dichotomy that doesn’t necessarily exist. I’ve known intelligent, learned, well-read Christian clergy who actually believe the New Covenant (which we find in Jer. 31 and Ezek. 36) is actually synonymous with New Testament. I choose to think of the Bible as being divided into four basic parts: Torah, Prophets, Writings, and Apostolic Scriptures. None of those classifications is designed to divorce one part of the Bible from the other as the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” do. They simply classify different areas of emphasis for different sections of our Holy text. If we must “carve up” the Bible, let’s do it without setting one part in direct opposition to another.

Runesson asks if the earliest followers of Messiah would have recognized the “umbrella term” we’ve assigned to them: “Christianity” and their own identity as “Christians” as we comprehend the term today? Would they have understood that when they gathered to fellowship and to worship, they were going to “church?”

Christianity is a religion. But up until a couple of centuries ago or so, “religion” wasn’t a distinct entity that could be wholly separated from other societal functions. So to call the “religion” of Paul “Christianity” or even “Judaism,” as such, is to impose a modern concept on an ancient people. Although there was not one uniform practice of Judaism in the first century world (although according to Rabbi Carl Kinbar, there was a core Judaism that all branches of Judaism agreed upon and variations were then applied), if one was a Jew, one’s lifestyle included the mitzvot in devotion to God (apart from the periodic heretic or two).

Calling Paul a Christian and saying he practiced Christianity is totally anachronistic and forces modern Church concepts on an ancient Jewish Pharisee who saw himself quite differently.

Even acknowledging the existence of the Greek word “christianos” (translated into English as “Christian”) does not mean that how “christianos” was thought of and lived out nearly two-thousand years ago has very much or even anything to do with how Christians think of and live out their faith today. What would a modern Evangelical think if he took a trip in Mr. Peabody’s “Wayback Machine” and found himself in Paul’s “church” in Antioch? How would that Christian navigate through what would (in my mind) undoubtedly be a Jewish synagogue prayer service on Shabbat rather than a Sunday church fellowship?

The most natural point of departure for renewed terminological reflection around who Paul was and how he self-identified would be to speak not of “Paul the Christian” but of “Paul the Jew”; of Paul as someone who practiced “Judaism,” not “Christianity.”

Simply put, “Christianity” didn’t exist while Paul lived in the world. Paul taught about and wrote about and lived out a Judaism called “the Way,” and he applied it to his Gentile disciples as it was relevant to them as Gentiles. He himself was a Jew, a Pharisee, a devout Hebrew, dedicated to the mitzvot, the Temple, the Torah, and Hashem, God of his fathers.

If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

Philippians 3:4-6 (NASB)

And as Runesson says:

…that speaking of Paul as a Jew practicing a form of Judaism is a more historically plausible point of departure for interpreting his letters…

And given all that, how do we read and interpret Paul’s letters if we employ this drastically changed paradigm?

Actually, it’s harder than that.

This does not mean, of course, that we should understand “Jewish” in essentialist terms as ahistorically referring to specific characteristics completely untouched by time and culture.

And…

…the observer needs to focus on how “a society understands and represents Jews at any given time and place…”

synagogueSo dropping Paul in a modern Orthodox Jewish synagogue on Shabbat might not be a particularly familiar experience for him either, though he’d have something more in common with the other Jews present than he would a Christian congregation.

We have to answer the question of what kind of Judaism Paul practiced. Only then can we gain a better understanding of what he was writing about in his letters. If we could only view them through his own interpretive lens or through the eyes of his immediate audience, what revelations would we see?

Runesson said that he and Mark Nanos have coined the term “Apostolic Judaism” to refer to the sort of Judaism Paul practiced and taught. How that Apostolic Judaism was lived out by Jews and by Gentiles is our mission of discovery.

Moving on to his discourse on the term “church,” Runesson brings up a point that I’ve written about on more than one occasion. The Old English word which eventually became “church” and originated in earlier Germanic languages wouldn’t be coined for many, many centuries after Paul penned letters mentioning the “Ekklesia” of Messiah. Translating the word “Ekklesia” as “Church” in our English Bibles is not only anachronistic, it is misleading and probably even dishonest.

Ekklesia, at least in Paul’s mind, was probably more closely associated to the Hebrew word “Kahal” than “Church”. It would be better, if we need to use an English word, to translate “Ekklesia” as “Assembly,” which more accurately maps to the first century Greek meaning of the term. Paul didn’t invent “Church,” either the word or the attendant concept. Later Christian Gentiles did that.

Paul never uses the word synagoge, but since ekklesia as a term was applied also to Jewish synagogue institutions at this time, it is instructive to compare how translators work with synagoge in relation to ekklesia.

In modern Bible translations and modern Christian thought, we have created a separate and opposing relationship between church and synagogue. Christians think of synagogue as the polar opposite and negative reflection of church. But this “anachronistic dividing line” is a manufactured artifact of later Church history and has nothing to do with Paul. Paul would have more closely associated Ekklesia and Synagoge in his thoughts than this thing called “church” which had no existence in his era.

Nevertheless…

Ekklesia occurs 114 times in the New Testament. The NRSV translates all but five of these with “church”…

What Runesson says next supports what I said above:

…the English translation “church” is inappropriate and misleading…

It is more accurate to say:

Paul’s use of ekklesia indicates that as the “apostle to the nations” he is inviting non-Jews to participate in specific Jewish institutional settings, where they may share with Jews the experience of living with the risen Messiah, of living “in Christ.”

Maybe that can be said to be true also of Gentiles who find themselves in fellowship within modern Messianic Jewish community. We are invited to share in a Jewish institutional setting while remaining Gentiles, and “share with Jews the experience of living with the risen Messiah.”

The Jewish PaulWe can dispense with colonizing the past and instead participate in giving a voice to the dead, letting them speak to us again, letting them…letting Paul use his own voice, or as close to it as we can manage.

Runesson concludes his essay with:

The terminology used by the sources themselves invites us to understand Paul as practicing and proclaiming a minority form of Judaism that existed in the first century. Such an invitation is, however, not the end of the research project; it is its very beginning.

I’ll continue my review soon.

Book Review of “Paul within Judaism: The State of the Questions”

I may not be inclined to agree with the late Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything, but in the case of Pauline studies it could, however, easily be argued that research discipline has indeed been negatively affected by Christian normative theology.

-Magnus Zetterholm
from the Introduction of his essay
“Paul within Judaism: The State of the Questions”
Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition)

This is how Zetterholm begins his contribution to the Paul within Judaism book, and no doubt it could be a disturbing statement for many Christian scholars, Pastors, and laypeople within the Church. How can “Christian normative theology” negatively affect Pauline studies? At least that’s probably the question they’d ask.

But the common thread running through the different articles within this book is removing Paul from within that normative Christian theological paradigm and inserting him (or re-inserting him) into a first century Jewish context, the context in which the Apostle lived, taught, and wrote.

Zetterholm points out that it’s primarily Christians who study the New Testament (or Apostolic Scriptures as I prefer to think of them) using (naturally) a classic set of Christian traditions. This includes a body of traditions used to study the letters of Paul. But tradition isn’t always the best basis to perform scientific and historical research. Zetterholm suggests something called “methodological atheism” as the preferred method, which isn’t to necessarily divorce our faith from our scholarly endeavors, but to set aside our tradition-based biases and to examine the text on its own terms.

From a methodological point of view, the Christian ideological perspectives that continue to characterize much of the ostensibly historical work done in New Testament studies is problematic.

The original understanding possessed by the first Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) was a specifically first century Jewish (and largely Pharisaic) perspective on the teachings of Paul and, of course, the earlier teachings of Messiah. However, during and certainly after the particularly gruesome divorce the Gentiles required from their Jewish mentors, the theological landscape within the newly minted non-Jewish religion known as “Christianity” was significantly altered from what came before it.

Anti-Jewish propaganda started promptly within early Christianity.

But beginning in the early second century we find harshly critical statements from non-Jewish followers of Jesus that seem to indicate that some form of division based on ethnicity has taken place.

Zetterholm quoted from Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, and his Letter to the Magnesians (8:1) for emphasis:

“…not [to] be deceived by strange doctrines or antiquated myths, since they are worthless. For if we continue to live in accordance with Judaism, we admit that we have not received grace.”

Or the even more damning statement (from the same letter, 10:3):

…”utterly absurd [atopon estin] to profess Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism.”

What was born in the second century has had a lasting impact on how the Church views Christianity and Judaism today:

The binary ideas that Christianity has superseded Judaism and that Christian grace has replaced Jewish legalism, for example, appear to be essential aspects of most Christian theologies.

two-roads-joinMore than that, we have the fixed notion that Christianity and Judaism are wholly separate things with, at this point in history, nothing in common besides a distinct shared “ancestor,” that is, the Torah and the Prophets.

Zetterholm’s goal is:

…what we herein prefer to call Paul within Judaism perspectives–believe and share the assumption that the traditional perspectives on the relation between Judaism and Christianity are incorrect and need to be replaced by a historically more accurate view. It is Christian theology that must adjust…

As history progressed in those first few centuries after the death of Paul, “Christian propaganda” against the Jews and Judaism only increased and diversified. Along with that, Paul’s central focus was also purposefully changed:

While Paul’s problem seems to have been how to include the nations in the final salvation or how the categories “Jew” and “non-Jew” would be rescued from their respective constraints, the interest changes to the salvation of the individual.

This is precisely the matter I was attempting to address yesterday. I believe it’s possible that nearly two-thousand years of inadvertent and deliberate distortion and corruption of Biblical interpretation has resulted in not only a fundamental misunderstanding of Paul the Jew and Pharisee, but confusion about the nature of his mission to the Gentiles. As I read Zetterholm, I believe that Paul was not “preaching” about saving individual souls from Hell, but attempting to reconcile the nations with the blessings of the New Covenant and integration into Jewish religious and social community.

Even within the early Gentile Christian community, there was still a “tug of war” going on between the Jewish and Christian perception of many theological issues. Zetterholm cites the example of a monk named Pelagius who “appeared in Rome around 380…”:

Pelagius also denied any form of original sin that had so corrupted the human soul that it was impossible for one to choose to do what God commanded. Against this, Augustine claimed the opposite: humans can in no way please God, even choose to want to please God, and are…incapable of doing what God demands.

This fourth century Monk seemed to possess a decidedly Jewish perspective of “the fall” in Genesis, and yet it was Augustine’s opinion that became “Gospel,” so to speak, and is staunchly believed in the Church today. But if our faith had remained Jewish and retained Paul’s original teachings faithfully, what would we believe today?

Many Christians, and I used to go to a church just like this, hold fast to the Reformation, to Martin Luther and those like him, who saw the corruption in the Catholic Church, and founded Protestantism as the solution. It would have been nice if they could also have corrected the many flaws that had crept into the Church’s theology and doctrine since the second century onward, but such was not the case. In fact:

During the Reformation, the already wide gap between Judaism and Christianity would widen even further and find new theological bases upon which to build. While the church had adopted a modified form of Augustinianism…Martin Luther returned to Augustine’s original doctrine of justification. Luther, however, developed several dialectical relations that would result in an even sharper contrast between Judaism and Christianity.

Luther
Martin Luther

In this aspect of theology, Luther and his peers reformed nothing. Actually, they took the misunderstanding of Paul’s teachings and amplified them.

Zetterholm referenced Luther’s infamous On the Jews and Their Lies, mentioning:

…that synagogues and Jewish schools should be burnt, rabbis should be forbidden to teach, and Jewish writings should be confiscated.

And from this, the 21st century Church has inherited:

Luther’s interpretation of Paul became established as an indisputable historical fact.

It’s small wonder that when questioning the traditional Christian view on Paul among Pastors and parishioners, it is as if you are questioning the existence of God. From Augustine to Luther, it has been the Church Fathers and Men of the Reformation who have manufactured how Christians understand Paul today, not Paul, not his Apostolic peers, not his Jewish and Gentile students, and not his original historic and cultural Jewish context.

During the nineteenth century the idea of a distinction between Judaism and Christianity was theologically well established. This dichotomy would eventually develop a kind of scientific legitimacy, predominantly within German scholarship.

I’m sure you see where this is going. With Holocaust Remembrance Day beginning this evening at sundown, the terrible legacy of Augustine, Luther, and so many others, reached its bloody climax in Shoah and the memory of six million Jewish deaths we continue to live with and must never forget.

Zetterholm didn’t make this point, at least not very strongly, but I felt it necessary to do so. No, it was not the intent of anyone, any Christian scholar or leader over the many long centuries to create the horrors of Hitler’s camps, but they were the inevitable result.

We can’t allow the possibility of another Holocaust to exist by allowing the traditional Christian misinterpretation of Paul to continue.

The solution is this:

Sanders did what Weber had done, but not so many after him–he reread the Jewish texts in order to see if he could find a religious pattern, common to all texts from 200 BCE to 200 CE.

This is what we should do. This is what the Church should do. Break from tradition and go back to the source material, reconstructing its meaning without twenty centuries of mistakes and disinformation getting in the way.

This revision of ancient Judaism changed the rules of the game quite significantly for New Testament scholars. It now seemed apparent that previous scholarship on Paul was based, not on an adequate description of ancient Judaism, but on a Christian caricature.

Paul the Christian Caricature.

The Jewish PaulNo, I can’t assign malice or any other ill intent upon modern Christians. Those who did create our traditions, some of them with malice, lived many centuries ago. With the passage of time, we’ve forgotten that these are the interpretations of men with a theological ax to grind, and we have forgotten that our understanding of “truth” and “fact” is in fact, a set of traditions, and that those traditions resulted from a hermeneutic that was specifically designed to remove every last vestige of Jewish learning and Jewish legitimacy from our devotion to the Jewish Messiah and the Jewish King of Kings, ruler of the Jewish nation Israel, and Son of the God of Israel.

Don’t worry, the article has a happy ending.

Zetterholm covered the “birth” of the new and even radical perspectives on Paul, citing Sanders, Dunn, Gaston and others. From them, he concludes:

The search for the historical Paul cannot be limited to finding a Paul who makes theological sense for the present-day church, but one who makes sense in a first-century context, before Augustine and Luther entered the scene.

Paul (must be) firmly rooted within Judaism.

A Paul within Judaism would not have taught that Jews and Gentiles in Messiah left their nationality and ethnicity behind and became a “third race,” a “one new man”. A Torah observant Paul within Judaism, still faithful to Judaism, faithful to the Temple, faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, needs to be read within that context. His letters are the same, but the lens by which we view them creates a dramatically different perspective.

One thing to consider given what I just wrote, is that:

…all Paul’s authentic letters seem to be addressing non-Jews might give us a hermeneutical key. Is it possible that Paul only objected to non-Jews observing the Torah or to non-Jews becoming Jews and thus under Torah on the same terms as Jews?

Zetterholm goes on to state (and I’ve said this before as well) that there were different ideas on the table about how the Jewish disciples of the Master were supposed to integrate the new Gentile disciples. They ranged from a sort of open-arms acceptance of Gentiles coming into community with Jews to absolute rejection, the very idea of Gentiles in synagogues being loathsome.

There is also ample evidence indicating that many non-Jews were attracted to Judaism and imitated a Jewish life style, probably as a result of interaction with Jews who believed that also non-Jews would benefit from observing the Torah.

Or at least some of the Torah. Zetterholm considers the existence of some “non-Jews who could be regarded as partly Torah observant” in ancient times. This may have implications on modern “Messianic Gentiles” and what sort of praxis we might maintain as an expression of our faith.

But that creates what Zetterholm calls a “complex social situation” between Jews obligated to the mitzvot and Gentiles taking on at least some of the commandments as a matter of preference and a natural consequence of being part of Jewish community, sharing a common table.

The problem this young movement had to overcome was how to incorporate non-Jews, not only to find ways of socializing safely with non-Jews, but how to include non-Jews in the eschatological people of God. Paul evidently believed that non-Jews should remain non-Jewish, and that they should not observe Torah, which possibly meant that they should not base their relation to the God of Israel on the Torah but on Jesus-the-Messiah.

messianic judaism for the nationsYesterday, I quoted from a sizable block of Colossians 1 in which Paul emphasized the centrality of the Messiah specifically for the Gentile. Given Zetterholm, Paul’s meaning takes on additional dimension.

However, he also cited the Didache which includes an injunction for the Gentile disciple to voluntarily take on as much of the Torah as possible or reasonable, yet remaining a Gentile.

I maintain that this all speaks to the nature of Jewish and Gentile relationships in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements today, as does the following:

It is quite natural and most likely that the process of self-definition was complicated and led to harsh conflicts.

Unfortunately, those conflicts ultimately resulted in Gentiles and Jews taking different trajectories in their expression of Yeshua-faith and finally the invention of Christianity, which split from its Jewish predecessors entirely.

While Paul believed that he represented the perfection of Judaism, the church quite swiftly became a religious movement opposed to the practice of Judaism.

Even those modern Christians who express a love for the Jewish people and for Israel continue to oppose the practice of Judaism, both in normative Judaism and for Jews in Messiah.

I’ll continue with my reviews soon.

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…

…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.”

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

However…

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

-ibid

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

Also…

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.

-ibid

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.

-ibid

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.

-ibid

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.

-ibid

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.

What Galatians Means to Christians Today

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

Acts 15:1 (NASB)

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

-from Book Review: The Irony of Galatians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (NASB)

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