Tag Archives: Paul

The Nangeroni Seminar on the Jewish Apostle Paul

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

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

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

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

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

More’s the pity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…doesn’t it?

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

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

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

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

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

I asked Dr. Hurtado the following on his blog:

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

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

To which he replied:

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

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

So, to break this down:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting a New Face on Sunday School

In verses 22-23 of Acts 22, Give the details of the “hissy fit” Paul’s Jewish audience threw when he used the “G” word.

Have you or I ever felt or expressed similar emotions when we didn’t get out way in church? (The “no” word) How does submission allow the Lord to bring about spiritual growth in our worthy walk with Him?

-from the Sunday school study notes
on Acts 22:22-29 for June 8th

My Sunday school teacher has a tendency to compare apples with oranges and believe he is actually comparing apples to apples. For instance:

“And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.

Acts 22:21-24 (NASB)

Teacher was comparing a near-riot situation not only to a “hissy fit” (which Urban Dictionary defines as a “sudden outburst of temper, often used to describe female anger at something trivial”) but to any relatively minor situation a person might experience in church that would cause them unhappiness or displeasure.

Either he thinks people’s problems in church border on crowd violence or he grossly minimizes the angst, frustration, fear, pain, and anger of the Jewish people whose land has been occupied by a pagan foreign army and who were highly sensitized to any offense by Gentiles during a moed such as Shavuot.

Since I published my previous blog post which merely anticipated last Sunday’s class, people have been asking me how class actually went. This is the answer.

Apostle Paul preachingI decided I could not remain completely silent and let what I considered to be unfair or inaccurate statements about Paul’s situation in particular or Christianity’s attitude about Judaism and Jewish people in general go unanswered. While I chose to ignore the “hissy fit” comment (though I was surprised at the number of people in class who agreed that the Jews in the above-quoted passage were merely “throwing a childish fit”), I did zero in on the humanity and the group dynamics of the situation.

I pointed out that presumably, some “Jews from Asia” (Acts 21:27) had been spreading rumors in Jerusalem that Paul had been “teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs” (Acts 21:21), and also that he had “even brought Greeks into the temple and [had] defiled [the] holy place.”

It only takes a few agitators to stir up a large crowd and start a riot. Jerusalem’s population had swelled to millions of Jews in preparation of Shavuot, and it was always during the moadim that emotions ran especially high. Any upset or offense at all, particularly the thought that a pagan Gentile would be taken into the Temple by a Jew who was presumed to be sympathetic to pagans if not a Roman collaborator, would be cause enough for disaster.

Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days away; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth and kill Him; for they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise there might be a riot of the people.”

Mark 14:1-2 (NASB)

We see even the Romans (not to mention the chief priests and scribes) could not execute the Master with impunity for fear of the crowds. In fact, in Acts 22, the Roman military authorities are doing all they can to prevent such a mass disturbance.

riotingSince none of that qualifies as a “hissy fit,” I decided to toss my two cents into the hat, so to speak, and explain all of this to the class. My teacher was in totally agreement and no one spoke up to suggest otherwise, though I can’t possibly know what anyone was thinking. My one regret was that the individual who previously made the Anti-Gentilism remark wasn’t present to either respond or not respond. But that was probably for the best since I can be more sure that my motivations were clear of the desire to make my own “response” to this person.

Earlier that morning, Pastor was extremely careful to point out that Paul’s troubles weren’t what we might consider in modern times to be “Jews persecuting a Christian.” At that moment in history, in Jerusalem, all of the people involved, apart from the Romans, are Jesus-believing Jews and Jews from other religious streams. The most accurate picture, in my personal opinion, we can paint, is that differing or opposing Jewish religious sects were engaged in “passionate” disagreement up to and including violent outbursts.

But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.

Acts 23:6-10 (NASB)

Last week in one of my reviews of D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, I wrote that Lancaster taught that the Pharisees and the Messianic Jewish believers all had virtually identical theology and doctrine. They both believed in the world to come, they both believed that God rewarded good and punished evil, both in this world and the world to come, they both believed in the resurrection of the dead, and they both believed in the Holy Spirit and in angelic beings.

But the Sadducees believed in none of that, which is what, according to Lancaster, resulted in the Sadducees barring the Messianic believers from the Temple prompting the Hebrews letter-writer to pen his epistle, and why the Sadducees and Pharisees sitting on the Sanhedrin argued so strenuously, putting Paul’s safety and even his life in danger.

That’s not the same as one religion persecuting another, dissimilar religion.

The Jewish PaulIn fact, in verse 6, Paul said, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees…,” and Pastor pointed this out, not I was a Pharisee. There was nothing inconsistent with being a Pharisee and coming to the realization that Yeshua was the Messiah, Son of God. Yeshua-devotion seems to have been the natural, logical, Biblical extension of Pharisaism in late second-Temple Judaism.

So we might even say (though I could be stepping out on a limb here), that modern Messianic Judaism, in some sense, is the inheritor of first century Pharisaic/Messianic Judaism.

As Sunday school class ended, a gentleman who looked familiar to me, but not in that context, approached me and introduced himself. Actually, he reminded me that he’s the father of my son Michael’s best friend. Apparently, he and his wife had attended this church some years back but left to plant another church in the community. They’ve returned, presumably for some time, so it’s become a more interesting situation.

I recall the few times I’ve spoken with this person before. He’s always been personable and interactive. Very much a “traditional Christian” but willing to listen and discuss my “Jewish” ideas.

No one else in class (or in church) has any connection to my family or my family’s history (my son has known this gentleman and his family for well over a decade, though I’ve only met them just a few times over the years) so I wonder how or if this will affect my future contributions? The situation certainly puts a new face on Sunday school.

One more thing. Pastor did talk about Christians who are being persecuted in the world today, and specifically Pastor Sergey Kosyak of Donetsk in the Ukraine. Please pray for him and for all the Christians who are authentically in danger, being injured, being incarcerated, being murdered for the sake of their faith in Jesus Christ. May God be with them and protect them all.

What I Learned in Church Today: Anti-Gentilism and Crypto-Supersessionism

Before starting, I wish to apologize to Pastor Randy, everyone at his church,  and any Christians who may be offended by what I’m about to say. I’m sorry but the Church isn’t perfect. It’s full of flawed human beings (I know, I’m one of them). Last Sunday, one of those people proved it and I’m proving it again by even talking about it. I probably shouldn’t. I almost didn’t. But I decided in the end that this needs to be said, not to injure the Church but to help it improve.

Now to begin today’s “morning meditation.”

Two statements from the notes handed out in the church bulletin on Pastor’s sermon for last Sunday:

Paul’s Conversion in Damascus (22:2b-13)

  1. His Previous Conduct – How Judaism Once Controlled His Life (vs. 2b-5)
  2. His Present Conduct – How Jesus Now Controls His Life (vs. 6-13)

This was part of Pastor’s sermon on Acts 21:35-22:2a. For a little context, here are the relevant passage of scripture:

And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said,

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.

“But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. and I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.

“A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him.”

Acts 22:2-13 (NASB)

I go over the notes for the sermon before services while everyone else is “schmoozing” and drinking coffee. Sometimes, I’ll even start writing down my impressions (I’m kind of a nerd that way). When I saw the two points above, my immediate response was “Judaism and the Jewish Messiah are not mutually exclusive.”

It’s doubtful Pastor meant to say they were, at least in a first century context (today is another story), but so many Evangelical Pastors believe that with the so-called “birthday of the Church” in Acts 2, God had declared Judaism (and possibly the Jewish people) obsolete and replaced by Christianity and the Church (neither of which existed as we understand them today at that point in history).

Actually, I really liked today’s (as I write this) sermon. Pastor really shines in his knowledge of Biblical history as well as the languages involved, and he brought out many details I thought were important and illuminating. At the same time, I could see the “lights” dim in the eyes of some of the people around me as Pastor may have (for them) gotten a bit too historical and scholarly.

He also delivered a welcome and rousing speech condemning anti-Semitism and the shocking fact that there are some two-hundred neo-Nazi organizations in the U.S. today that teach adults and children to hate and kill Jews and other minority populations. Anti-Semitism should not exist in our world, especially post-Holocaust.

ChurchThe only thing he left out was how for nearly all of the history of the Church, we have been one of the chief supporters of anti-Semitism, pogroms, forced conversions, torture, and murder of countless Jewish people, not to mention the numbers of synagogues, Torah scrolls, and volumes of Talmud we’ve destroyed “in the name of Jesus”.

Thankfully, Christians don’t participate in such actions today, but there’s an echo of that same sentiment toward Jewish people we can still hear in our churches right now, including in the Sunday school class I attended a few hours (as I write this) ago.

I’ll get to that in a bit.

In reading Paul recite his own history about how he so zealously opposed the Messianic Jewish movement of the Way, I realized the Bible never directly addresses why Paul embraced such murderous hate of the movement. What did it mean to him personally? Why did he make it his special mission to eradicate Jewish Jesus-believers?

Typically in the late second Temple period, the Way was opposed by other Jewish groups because of it’s unusually wide acceptance of Gentiles as equal co-participants in Jewish religious and social space without the requirement of the non-Jews undergoing the proselyte rite.

“And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!”

Acts 22:21-22 (NASB)

The Jewish crowd, that had previously assaulted Paul because of the mistaken belief that the apostle had taken a Gentile into the Temple, up to this point, was (presumably) calmly listening to Paul relate his first encounter with Messiah, even describing how Yeshua appeared to him in a vision of light, and that he heard a Bat Kol from Heaven. Seemingly, they did not object to Paul’s assertion that Yeshua was Messiah and even that he could speak from the Divine realm. They only became once again enraged when Paul mentioned the Gentiles.

But when Paul previously opposed the Way some thirty years before, it was early enough in history that there would have been few, if any Gentiles participating in the Messianic Jewish movement. Paul’s motivation couldn’t have been Gentile involvement. But what else could it have been?

But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?”

Mark 14:61-64 (NASB)

PhariseesJewish objections to Jesus were never about claims of his being Messiah. Would-be Messiahs came and went in Judaism all of the time. The worst Jesus and his followers could have been accused of was being wrong, but being wrong is hardly blasphemy. What would have been considered blasphemy was a man declaring himself co-equal with God. This is why the High Priest tore his clothes. This is what got Jesus killed. This is what the Jewish people found so incredibly offensive and wanted to exterminate.

(As an aside, for more details about Jewish objections to Messiah as Deity, read Derek Leman’s new ebook The Divine Messiah as well as my book review on his work.)

Paul (Saul) was present at the defense of Stephen (Acts 7) and heard the disciple of the Master state, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56), declaring Yeshua co-equal with God. Saul willingly held the cloaks of the men of the Sanhedrin as they drove Stephen outside the city and stoned him to death.

This may have been the genesis of Paul’s hatred of the Way, a sect of Judaism that went one step too far in not only following a (presumably) dead man as Messiah, but believing him to be co-equal with God and God Himself.

So in opposing blasphemy, from the point of view of most Jews of his day (or for that matter, ours), Saul was in the right (even though it turned out he was wrong). The only thing really questionable was how personal his hatred of the Jewish Messianics seemed to be. We can speculate as to Saul’s reasons, but the Bible is silent as to what they might have been.

So in Acts 9, Paul did not “convert to Christianity,” but he did have a supernatural and highly personal encounter with the Master, strong enough to override all of Paul’s previous motivation and set him on a new track. That track however, was one that was completely Jewish and might even be described as “Pharisaism with a Messianic twist”. By his own admission, Paul’s beliefs and practices were still totally consistent with being a Pharisee and a zealot for the Torah, but he was most of all a zealot for Messiah within a completely Jewish lived reality.

Although I thought Pastor’s sermon was very good with just a few slight wrinkles, Sunday school was another story. You may recall from a previous blog post how my wife had pointed out my arrogance, and as a result, I began to reevaluate my role in the church.

Out of that, I resolved, at least for a time, to remain silent in Sunday school. I mentioned to the teacher before class got started that I would be keeping quiet, and he honored that by not posing me with any questions.

There were more than a few times during class when I regretted my decision, although I still think it was for the best.

Oh sure, the non-believing Jews who opposed Paul were called “satanic” for their devotion to the Law and their rejection of Jesus (although nowhere in the narrative we were studying does it mention them rejecting Jesus at all). Teacher likes to label non-believing Jews as “influenced by Satan” from time to time, and I’ve called him on it in the past. He can’t seem to imagine the actual motivation and reasoning involved in first century Jews not understanding Gentile equality in a Jewish social and worship venue. I’ve noticed some Christians often treat the people they encounter in the Bible as “characters” playing out some sort of artificial role in a “Bible story,” as if they weren’t (and aren’t) real, live human beings in actual human situations.

Adult Sunday SchoolBut a number of people in class were sort of chuckling at the “ignorance” of the Jewish mob who had finally settled down and was listening to Paul’s words, and how they had a “hissy fit” upon Paul’s mention of the Gentiles.

At one point, a gentleman piped up complaining about all the accusations of “anti-Semitism” against Christians and wondering if there was some sort of opposite sentiment like Jewish “anti-Gentilism” (I suppose he was thinking along the lines of something like reverse discrimination, but depending on your point of view, that may or may not exist).

That’s when I started gritting my teeth. It’s incredible that anyone who has studied the Bible for any length of time (this person, by the way, seems well-read and intelligent) can miss why, especially on one of the three major pilgrim festivals on the Jewish religious calendar, Jews would be highly sensitive to Gentiles invading Jewish worship and social space in the Temple (which was what they were reacting to).

For cryin’ out loud, the Romans had invaded the whole blamed country and were occupying it. The Jewish nation was hip deep in oppressive, cruel, dictatorial Gentile Roman soldiers. Who responded to keep the peace when the Jewish mobs rioted? The Roman soldiers. Why? Because Rome had control of Israel and jurisdiction over Jerusalem, including on the Temple Mount where the riot occurred. Of course the crowds of Jews, both native to the Land and from the diaspora, millions of them inhabiting Jerusalem during the festival of Shavuot, would have been incensed at the very idea of Gentiles taking even more away from the Jewish people than they already had.

Believe me, if you were a Jew in that situation, you’d probably have “lost it,” too.

I stayed silent and no one else spoke up. Remember those echoes I mentioned before? This was one of them.

I’ve already got enough theological and doctrinal issues to address in church as it is. I don’t want to find something like this on top of it all.

I know it might seem like a small thing to some, maybe to most people. Maybe it’s just that I’m married to a Jewish wife and have three Jewish children. But the Church, including each and every individual in my little local church, won’t truly make Pastor’s dream of a world without anti-Semitism come true until we really start treating the ancient and modern Jews like real people with real concerns instead of caricatures or stereotypes used only as “bad examples” of religion without Christ.

My Sunday school teacher made a point several times in class to emphasize how, when we believe we don’t like someone, to look deeper and to find what is good in them rather than focus on what we dislike. In complaining about the Jewish crowd who opposed Paul as displaying “anti-Gentilism” and failing to see why they would feel and act as they did, one Christian gentleman overtly failed in that mission and by not speaking up, the rest of us silently agreed that we didn’t have to look past Jewish anger to see Jewish hurt, fear, and vulnerability.

Christian and JewishWe always read these “Bible stories” supporting Paul and the rest of the believing Jews and Gentiles, and imagining the Jews who were “persecuting the Church,” including Saul back in the day, as fools and villains. The Church exists in a post-missionary, crypto-supersessionist space, even now, relative to the Jewish people and Israel. If I would have called this gentleman on his comment, I don’t think it would have done any good. I’m an outsider, an anomaly in Christian religious and communal space. The rest of them had heard the Pastor’s plea to end prejudice against Jews in the Church. But at least one person didn’t think it applied to him.

Matters leading to sadness fall into two categories: matters that can be corrected and matters that cannot.

If something can be done to correct a situation, why feel sad? Simply take action to correct the matter!

On the other hand, if nothing can be done, what gain is there in feeling sad? Sadness will not improve matters. It is wiser to accept what cannot be changed.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Tonight at sundown begins the Festival of Shavuot which I commented on a few days ago. As long as even one believer thinks the “birthday of the church” completely overrides this moed’s meaning to God’s chosen people, the Jews, the Church will never be free of its anti-Jewish history.

One last thing. I’m often critical of the Church, not because I’m into “Christian-bashing” but because I believe that the Church, the Gentile Jesus-believing ekklesia, is good. But it could be a whole lot better. I’ve defended the Church more than once, and one of the defining qualities of Christianity is love of one’s neighbor and fellowship.  I know I’m only one man, but I can see this so clearly. We need to do better, a lot better. We need to see the Jewish people and Israel as God sees them. Only then can we fulfill our own purpose as the people of the nations who are called by His Name to be the crowning jewels surrounding and uplifting Israel and her King Messiah.

Nanos, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem with Peter

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

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

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

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

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

What Was at Stake in the Antioch Incident?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nanos, pg 284

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And further:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-ibid, pg 289

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-ibid, pg 293

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

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

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

-ibid, pg 296


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

-ibid, pg 297

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

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

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

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

ibid, pg 301

But what about this?

I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Galatians 2:14 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

-Nanos, pg 311

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

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

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

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

-ibid, pg 315

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

I found the following quote revealing:

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

-ibid, pg 316

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

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

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

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

Matthew 8:11 (NASB)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope to finish my final review of Zetterholm soon.

Review of “What About the New Covenant,” Part 5

Session Five: From Glory to Glory

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 31:31-32 (NASB)

This is the fifth and final lecture in the series What About the New Covenant presented by D. Thomas Lancaster and produced by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). This sermon is the one that wraps everything up, at least hopefully. We’ve gone through the other four lectures and I’ve offered my thoughts and opinions. Let’s see how everything ends.

Lancaster says the above-quoted text from the New Covenant language in Jeremiah reminds him of the incident with the Golden Calf (Exodus 32). Moses smashed the first set of tablets, symbolizing how Israel broke the covenant, rebuked the people, then went back up the mountain to make atonement. He came back down with another set of tablets, symbolizing the renewal of the covenant.

It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him. So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers in the congregation returned to him; and Moses spoke to them. Afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that the Lord had spoken to him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him.

Exodus 34:29-35 (NASB)

There’s a lot going on in this paragraph in the Torah. The only time I’ve heard this passage explained before was on Christian radio, and the Pastor doing the teaching (I can’t recall who it was) used it as some sort of evidence to how bad the law was. I can’t remember his arguments, but it seemed more than a little allegorical and was yet another shot by the Church from its Replacement Theology arsenal. Lancaster gives this portion of scripture a fresh look.

When Moses was in the presence of God, his face took on the “radiance of the Divine Presence” but it eventually faded. The people were initially afraid of seeing the light of God’s Glory shining on Moses’ face but he called them back to him. When he was around people, he veiled his face, maybe to keep from scaring people, but maybe to keep them from realizing that the light eventually faded. Only when he was with God did he unveil his face and the shining glory returned to him. almost like Moses was being “recharged.”

This will all become important shortly as we get into Lancaster’s commentary on Paul’s midrash:

For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.

2 Corinthians 2:17 (NASB)

Lancaster and the rest of the FFOZ staff typically default to the ESV Bible when writing or teaching, but this time Lancaster switched to the NASB, explaining that the ESV Bible does a poor job at translating the verses he’s going to teach from. This matches what Pastor Randy told me one time, saying that he found the ESV Bible in general to give a certain amount of support to Replacement Theology by how it translates the original languages.

The Jewish PaulWe start with Paul defending himself from allegations that he is not really an apostle because he was not commissioned as were the other apostles, by Yeshua (Jesus) during the Messiah’s “earthly ministry.” Paul explains that he did not come “peddling the word of God,” that is, asking for money, but he worked to support himself. He also said “we speak Christ in the sight of God,” explaining that he and his companions were commissioned by God as it were.

Then Paul got a little sarcastic (an attitude New Testament scholar Mark Nanos called “an ironic rebuke” in his book The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context).

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (NASB)

Without stealing Lancaster’s thunder by explaining everything, he describes Paul as sarcastically asking if his Master or the Council of Apostles in Jerusalem, should have sent him out with a letter or recommendation, sort of like asking, “Should I have brought a note from my Mother?”

But he also says something interesting. He says “you,” his audience, “are our letter of recommendation,” indicating that their behavior, their lives changed by the knowledge of and faith in Messiah, are what establishes Paul’s “cred” as an apostle. But a letter written on hearts by the Spirit of God? Where have we heard that before?

And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.

Ezekiel 11:19-20 (NASB)

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

Jeremiah 31:33 (NASB)

TorahLancaster says that Paul took those two passages, both of which end with the same declaration of Israel being His people and He being Israel’s God in New Covenant language, and leveraged them in this 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 commentary. Paul is continuing to establish himself as an apostle and emissary of the New Covenant, contrasting the Old Covenant and New Covenant, not that the conditions are different, because the Torah as the conditions, are the same between one covenant to the other, but that those conditions, written on stone tablets in the Old Covenant, are written on hearts by the Spirit of God in the New Covenant.

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.

2 Corinthians 3:4-11 (NASB)

Especially starting at verse 7, these scriptures are used by many Christian teachers and Pastors to substantiate the allegation that the Torah was “bad” and killed, and that it was replaced by the grace of Jesus which is “good” and gave life. I have to admit, if you had no context for interpreting Paul’s meaning, then “the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones” sounds pretty grim. The Torah brings death, the ministry of Moses was (and is) deadly, he seems to say. But look at the full message from the point of view of a val chomer or from lighter to heavier argument. I’ll paraphrase somewhat:

But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?

I guess this “ministry of death” thing needs some explanation. What brings death, obeying the Torah? That hardly seems likely since God gave Israel the Torah as the conditions of the Old Covenant at Sinai and, as we’ve seen these past several weeks, the Torah represents the conditions of the New Covenant as well. So how can the Old Covenant and the Torah be a “ministry of death?” What’s the difference between the Old and New Covenants?

Under the Old Covenant, if you disobey the conditions, thereby disobeying God, the consequences were exile and death. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It’s not the Torah that brings death, and it is not fidelity to the Torah and to God that brings death, the ministry of death is disobedience and sin, the consequences for which, under the Old Covenant, bring death.

gloryBut as we’ve previously seen, under the New Covenant, the Torah or the conditions don’t change, it’s the people who change. It becomes possible for people to not sin at all thanks to what God does in the New Covenant, writing the Torah on people’s hearts so obedience to God becomes part of human nature. It is the ministry of righteousness because the people become righteous.

Paul is saying something like:

If you thought the Old Covenant came in tremendous glory, just you wait. The New Covenant comes with even much more glory, so much in fact that, by comparison, the shining of the New Covenant will make the light and glory of the Old Covenant seem like a dim night-light!

Paul isn’t saying that the Old Covenant had no glory, only that by comparison, the New Covenant, because it makes it basically impossible for people to sin, will seem so much more glorious. In a val chomer argument, the second condition cannot be true unless the first condition is true, so if the New Covenant has tremendous glory, the Old Covenant is glorious as well (present tense), just not quite so much.

Like the glow on Moses’ face, it was brilliant in its illumination, but it had a tendency to fade and needed to be renewed. Something like the pattern of Israel under the glorious Old Covenant. Israel’s faith tended to fade and they sinned, requiring repeated renewal efforts. Christianity has a similar problem but then, we’re still living in Old Covenant times, too. We do however have a pledge of the coming New Covenant, just as all believers do, Jew and Gentile alike.

Lancaster previously talked about a Heavenly Torah that, in order to be understood and accessed by man, had to be “clothed” so to speak, to “translate” from Heaven to Earth. The Torah of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul (Psalm 19:7), but since it exists in our world, it is also temporal. Basically, it’s glory “fades.” The Torah of Messiah in the New Covenant is the Supernal Torah and will never fade but instead, Messiah will reveal what is now concealed in the Torah, removing the veil, as it were, from the Torah and from in front of our eyes, so we can see the full glory, just as Moses saw God’s glory on the mountain.

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Matthew 5:17-18 (NASB)

heaven and earthThe Old Covenant does not change at all while Heaven and Earth are still here, but eventually, we get a New Heaven and New Earth, so the Old Covenant will eventually cease. Actually I had a problem with this example of Lancaster’s because what I see Yeshua (Jesus) saying is that the Torah, the conditions of the Old and New Covenants, don’t change as long as Heaven and Earth exist, so it seems that the conditions of even the New Covenant will change once we get a New Heaven and a New Earth. Of course, until then, we are living in Old Covenant times, holding only a pledge of the New Covenant through receiving the Holy Spirit, so the conditions are still with us under the Old Covenant and the emerging New Covenant.

When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

Hebrews 8:13 (NASB)

Sure, the Old Covenant is becoming obsolete, but that’s a long, drawn out process, and it won’t disappear until Messiah returns bringing the fully realized New Covenant with him.

Let’s finish up with chapter three of 2 Corinthians:

Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (NASB)

Lancaster goes through this line by line, but what I found important was how his interpretation of Paul redeemed Paul from the criticism of many Jewish people or for that matter, the mistaken understanding of many Christians, who saw Paul as anti-Torah and Law-free, and was teaching Jews and Gentiles to also forsake Torah and to believe the Torah was a “ministry of death”.

Lancaster describes why the Jewish people couldn’t simply obey the Torah as they had always done and have that be enough. It’s why there aren’t two paths to salvation, Moses for the Jews and Jesus for the Gentiles. Hear me out. I think this explanation makes sense.

Under the Old Covenant, as hard as a Jewish person might strive, being only human, sooner or later he would sin and require atonement under the conditions of that Covenant, that is, the Torah. When Israel sinned greatly and did not repent, the conditions of the Old Covenant required exile and death. Nothing in that Covenant made Jewish people “sin proof,” so to speak.

Look at Israel’s history. It’s glorious but it’s also terrible. How many exiles have there been? How many times has Jerusalem been destroyed? How many times has God (temporarily) withdrawn His presence from among Israel due to their “hearts of stone?”

tallit_templeBut under the New Covenant, God makes it possible for Israel not to sin at all and further, God promises to forgive all of Israel’s sins past and present. Apprehending the first fruits of the New Covenant through faithfulness to Yeshua HaMashiach, the conditions of the Old Covenant and New Covenant, that is, the Torah, don’t change, so Jews are still required to perform the mitzvot, but God starts writing on their hearts, starts softening hearts, begins to lead His people Israel into the better promises of the New Covenant.

The veil is lifted and the concealed Torah is revealed. Israel is liberated, not from the Torah but liberated from sin.

What does from glory to glory mean?

From the glory of the Old Covenant, which was and is glorious indeed, but to the greater glory of the New Covenant, which will be eternal and in which all men will know God face to face, the way Moses knows God, not dimly through a mirror, as we know God now.

The glory of the Old Covenant forgives sin but does not make people sinless. The glorious New Covenant forgives all sins past and present, and then makes it possible for people to naturally obey God so that we will never again sin. The Old Covenant was and is good, but the New Covenant really is the better deal. It’s incredibly fabulous.

I’m kind of sad to see this study end. I was really enjoying it. Of course, I’ve got about a year’s worth of Lancaster’s Epistle to the Hebrews study to still work through, so it’s not like I’m out of material to review.

I deliberately left out quite a bit of detail from my reviews, so if these “meditations” have piqued your interest, I’d recommend you order the full five-disc set of audio CDs What About the New Covenant. May you be as illuminated as I have been.

Should We Get Rid of Paul?

From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus. And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.

Acts 20:17-24 (NRSV)

Pastor Randy’s sermon today (it’s Sunday afternoon as I write this) had some very nice things to say about Paul. This isn’t surprising, since we’ve been studying Paul’s life and activities as an Apostle to the Gentiles and as a role model for Christians, and especially for missionaries, in the Church today.

But Paul has been on my mind lately. This is sort of a “part 2” to my previous blog post Questioning Paul. While Paul’s teachings as we have them in Luke’s Book of Acts and in many of the Epistles are well accepted by the Church, since after all, these sources are part of our Biblical canon, not everyone sees Paul as a beneficial influence. In fact, he’s a big problem to almost everyone else outside of the normative Church who cares about his impact on Christianity, Judaism, and the world beyond.

As you recall from prior blog posts, I’d been having an email conversation with a Jewish friend of mine about Paul and how my friend believes the Epistles show Paul to be an arrogant, anti-Law Apostle, possibly a convert to Judaism, and certainly a traitor to the Jewish people, to the Torah, and to the Temple.

I posted this link to my review of the second lecture in D. T. Lancaster’s five-part series What About The New Covenant into a closed group on Google+. I got another perspective on Paul from a person who replied with the following comments (edited for context):

OK, please post supporting OT scripture or where Yeshua said this was so, not Paul’s rabbinical commentary of OT scripture. Let’s stick to the source.

I look at the writings of Paul as for (sic) what they are, they ARE commentary on what is already written. If they add to or remove from what is written in the Tanach, then they are false. They HAVE to agree, plain and simple.

In other words, Paul’s letters (and probably the Book of Acts as well as epistles written by other apostles) are mere commentary and not on the same level as the Torah, Prophets, Writings (Tanakh or Old Testament), and Gospels. We are free to disregard Paul whenever we perceive that Paul is in contradiction with the Tanakh or the teachings of Jesus in the four Gospel accounts.

So let’s review the three positions we have on Paul so far:

  • Christians accept Luke’s Book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul as Biblical canon and writings inspired by the Holy Spirit, just like the other books in the Bible.
  • Generally, Jewish people do not accept any of the writings in the part of the Christian Bible from Matthew through Revelation, and my friend suggests that I consider the Epistles more “authentic” because they are Paul’s own words and reveal him to be anti-Judaism, anti-Jewish people, and anti-Torah, thus in conflict with the Tanakh.
  • At least one representative of the Hebrew Roots “One Law” movement, accepts Paul’s letters as an authentic part of the Bible, but only at the level of Torah commentary, much like how Christians consider portions of Talmud, thus whenever Paul seems to contradict the Torah, Prophets, and Writings, the Tanakh must be right and Paul must be wrong.

hebrews_letterI haven’t spoken of this on my blog, though I have in more private conversations, but I remember, I think it was back in 2005, when a fellow named Monte Judah, who is the head of an organization called Lion and Lamb Ministries, publicly came out and said that the Book of Hebrews should not be part of Biblical canon. His article is rather lengthy, so I won’t attempt to analyze it or quote from it here, but the problem he produced then in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish worlds is the problem I seem to be experiencing: can we “adjust” Biblical canon to eliminate or minimize portions of scripture we find are a “problem?”

Of course, from my Jewish friend’s perspective (as a non-believer), there’s no issue since nothing in the New Testament is considered the Bible, thus Paul should be a “non-event.” Paul, or at least how he’s been traditionally interpreted, is only an issue to the degree that his writings have been used by the Church for nearly two-thousand years, to at best marginalize the Jewish people, and at worst to exterminate them.

This isn’t the Paul that I know, who would take any risk and suffer anything for the sake of his Jewish brothers and sisters:

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:1-5 (NRSV)

But even here, the letter picking up at verse 6 seems to see Paul damning those he just praised. Paul appears to be a maddening contradiction, at once praising the Jewish people and denigrating them; at once saying how lovely the Torah is and also how it is the way of death. They can’t both be right. Either Paul was hopelessly double-minded or we’re missing something.

John Mauck

Men like John Mauck, Mark Nanos, and Scot McKnight have been trying to interpret Paul in a way that actually makes sense and doesn’t violate God’s intent toward the Jewish people or break God’s prior covenants with them as we see in the Tanakh, but it’s an uphill battle. Both Christianity and Judaism see Paul in fundamentally the same way, a man who walked away from Judaism and, based on the teachings of Jesus, created a brand-new faith for non-Jewish people that Jews could only join by abandoning their Jewish birthright.

For at least a few in the Hebrew Roots movement, the answer to Paul is to downgrade him from scripture writer to Bible commentator whereby he “merely” is interpreting older scripture without adding to canon as such. Again, I can only assume that the other epistles and Luke’s Acts are also relegated to the status of commentary (which doesn’t make them scripture at all) and only the Gospels (and John’s Revelation?) are the real, authentic Word of God we find post-Tanakh.

Paul is a lightning rod of controversy because of the apparent contradictions in his writings and the “weirdness” of having letters included as part of our Bible. On the other hand, Revelation 2 and 3 record Messiah’s personal correspondence to seven diaspora churches, so Jesus himself creates a wrinkle in the fabric of what we consider scriptural writings.

How are we to evaluate canon? Who is qualified, competent, and has the authority (which presumably would have to come from God) to change the Bible we have today? Who has the right to subtract entire books from the Bible or even a paragraph, a sentence, a word, or a letter?

Certainly not me.

You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.

Deuteronomy 4:2 (NRSV)

But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

Galatians 1:8-9 (NRSV)

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Revelation 22:18-19 (NRSV)

Admittedly, I’m taking these verses out of context and I can’t say that they present a blanket statement that covers the entire Bible from Genesis through Revelation (though they do seem to cover the Torah, the Gospel as presented in the context of Paul’s Galatians letter, and Revelation), but they do indicate that it is a dangerous thing to play fast and loose with the contents of the Bible. I mean, we already play around a lot with the context of the Bible, with how we choose to interpret it, with how we decide what it means, but once we think we’re all big and bad enough to decide as individuals or groups, that we can put this part in the Bible and take another part out, we might as well resolve to meet our demise in the manner of Nadab and Abihu.

nadab-abihu-fireOne does not treat a consuming fire lightly.

My answer is that we have no sound basis for changing the contents of the Bible, which for better or worse, has been part of our religious canon for almost twenty centuries as far as the Apostolic Writings go, and the rest of the Bible, a good deal longer.

The Bible is what it is. We either learn to live with it and try to learn from it, or we admit defeat by either blindly trusting what leaders and experts tell us it means, or give up our faith altogether, or as much of it as is based on the Bible. If we love the Tanakh but don’t trust the Apostolic Writings, we Gentiles, by definition, must abandon Jesus and convert to Judaism (or alternately become Noahides). This could include even those who feel comfortable readjusting the level of Paul’s importance and authority as a Bible author, for once you start questioning Paul, how much “Christianity” do you have left?

As a disciple of my Master, the only reasonable choice I have is to believe that all of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, tells a single story about God and Israel and what that story means about the people of the nations. I have to believe, even though there seems to be different messages from and about Paul in Acts and in the Epistles, that there is an internally consistent Paul who believed one thing, was on a single mission, and who was always faithful to God, the Master, the Torah, the Temple, and the Jewish people.

Three days later he called together the local leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. When they had examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor—even though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”

Acts 28:17-20 (NRSV)

This is only one time when Paul defends himself against the false charges of teaching Jews against following the Torah of Moses (see Acts 21:21-24, 24:10-21, 25:10, and 26:22-23 for other portions of Paul’s testimony). If Paul is telling the truth, and I believe he must be (for why would he suffer such terrible persecution including beatings, stonings, and other hardships just to lie in order to get out of punishment now) then we must be reading wrong those portions of his letters that seem to indicate that Paul had a low (or no) view of the Torah.

I know I’m probably pinning a lot of my hopes for understanding the Apostle to the Gentiles on the scholars of the New Perspective on Paul, but I really don’t think there’s another reasonable option. Given everything I’ve said up to this point, the only answer to this conundrum is that our interpretation of Paul, the Church’s traditional, historical interpretation of Paul, is faulty, due either to an early second and third century misunderstanding, or to a deliberate “massaging” of the text in an attempt to make Paul fit an anti-Jewish paradigm.

Tinkering with Biblical canon in any way isn’t an option and frankly, I think you’d have to be pretty “nervy” to even suggest it. The Bible is what it is. Now, the challenge is to discover the identity of the real, consistent, sane, Pharisee and observant Jew who we call the Apostle Paul.