Tag Archives: The Mystery of Romans

Book Review: The Irony of Galatians

The Irony of GalatiansFinally, I want to acknowledge the victims of certain interpretations of Paul’s voice, especially those who have suffered the Shoah. Their suffering cannot be separated from the prejudices resulting from those interpretations any more than it can be wholly attributed to them. To them I dedicate the effort represented in this book.

-Mark D. Nanos
from the Acknowledgments, pg ix
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s dive in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 13:44-45 (NASB)

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

Acts 15:1 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nanos, pg 319

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

Not an easy task to be sure.

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

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

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

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

Final Summary of The Mystery of Romans

up_to_jerusalemThroughout this study we have considered the contact of Paul’s apostolic ministry in the light of the two-step missionary pattern: “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16; 2:10). His opening and closing address indicate that Paul must reach Rome to bring them within the two-step pattern God had appointed for the restoration of Israel and the salvation of the world, regardless of the fact that some gentiles in Rome had already believed in the good news before many of the Jews in Rome had even heard it (Rom. 1;5-17; 15:14-33; Acts 28:14-23, 24ff). They were struggling because their faith lacked a proper foundation (it was not “established”:Rom 1:11) — and they were ignorantly supposing that their new position in salvation history involved supplanting Israel (11:1, 11-32).

-Mark Nanos
“Chapter 5: Paul’s Two-Step Pattern And The Restoration Of ‘All Israel'”, pg 237
The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters

As I write this, I’ve just finished reading this book, but before I move on, I want to offer my impressions and final summary of thoughts about what Nanos wrote. I realized that I’ve written a lot about this book so far, starting with Chapter One, the Nanos commentary on weak and strong, a presentation on the apostolic decree and how Paul applied it to the Gentile believers in Rome, as well as a comparison between Paul’s letter to Rome and his letter to the Galatians.

There’s a lot going on in this book but it rests on a few assumptions. It assumes that the Gentile and Jewish believers in Rome were regularly meeting in synagogues also commonly used by non-believing Jews. It assumes that non-believing Jews, believing Jews, and believing Gentiles all interacted with each other in these synagogues. It assumes that the Gentile believers thought, or were approaching the thought, that because of the grace of Christ and their freedom from Torah obligation, that the Torah was on its way out, along with a formal Judaism, and that the Gentiles would be supplanting the Jews in this religious stream.

Ironically, or should I say tragically, this last assumption has the ring of truth and indeed is exactly what has happened. It is also the prevailing thought in the Church today. We like to think a lot has changed in two-thousand years, but certain core ideas and prejudices haven’t gone away.

Nanos notes in Appendix 2 (pp 372-387) that there are some problems with the reading of Romans due to the edict of Claudius which suggests that all or most of the Jews were expelled from Rome during the relevant time period and that the Gentile Christians were meeting in small home churches, not Jewish synagogues. If this is true, then Nanos’ book falls apart. However, Nanos believes that the edict expired allowing the Jewish population to return to Rome or that perhaps not all of them were expelled (he estimates that the Jewish population of Rome at that time was between 20,000 and 50,000, which is a lot of people to move out).

I don’t have a historical background such that I can evaluate this issue, so I’m going to take it for granted (at this time) that Nanos is correct about his assumptions. I do however reserve the right to amend my opinion as more information comes my way.

In Chapter 5, Nanos continues to build his message that Paul’s letter to the Romans was a strong reminder to the Gentile Christians that they were under the authority of the apostolic decree and expected to exercise “obedience of faith” which would include restraining themselves from any behavior that would put a stumbling block in the way of their unbelieving Jewish co-participants in Roman synagogue life, and help them come to faith in Messiah.

The “two-step process” of Paul always first visiting the Jewish synagogue in any place he arrived at and then going to the Gentiles, was not just deference to the local Jewish population, but rather Paul’s and God’s plan of salvation. Jesus himself said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22), and Paul believed that when he arrived in Rome, he could provoke Jewish “jealousy” of his mission to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6), inspiring them to become part of Isaiah’s prophecy and God’s command.

But the door swings both ways. The Gentiles, by “obedience of faith” were to also “provoke” the non-believing Jews by revealing themselves as the “first fruits” of prophesy’s fulfillment:

On that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name, says the Lord who does this. (emph. mine)

Amos 9:11-12 (NASB)

prophetic_return1The Tanakh (Old Testament) is replete with prophesies of Gentile participation in the national restoration of Israel and the return of Jewish exiles in the diaspora to their Land, so this assumption on Nanos’ part is certainly reasonable. But the prophetic promise was in danger of not being fulfilled among the Jews in Rome because of the Gentiles assuming a position that elevated the nations and diminished Israel, the Jewish people, and particularly Jewish Torah observance, reversing what God has decreed.

Paul, in the context of 11:1-29, 30ff., clarifies that while part of Israel may have “stumbled” it is not “so as to fall” but in order that they will be provoked to jealousy as the gospel brings salvation to the gentiles in fulfillment of prophecies. It is for this very reason that Paul magnifies “his ministry” as the “apostle of Gentiles” (v. 13). He hopes it will “move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them” (v. 14). Paul frames the purpose of his apostolic ministry with the vivid contrast between the present “riches” that have come to gentiles through the “stumbling” of some of his brothers and sisters (who have not believed in Christ or in the salvation of these gentiles) and the unfathomable success that will be realized by both the Christian gentiles and Israel when the apostolic ministry has at last fulfilled its destiny (see Rom. 11:12, 15).

-Nanos, pg 248

Paul’s two-step process placed Jews and believing Gentiles in complementary roles, whereby they needed each other to fulfill the prophetic promise that would be culminated upon Messiah’s return.

David Rudolph and Joel Willitts commented on this complementary relationship in terms of modern Messianic Judaism more than once in their book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: It’s Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, and I used their material to comment to this point as well on my blog.

In Romans 11:18, Paul reminds the Christian Gentiles in Rome that the “root supports you” (Gentiles), not the other way around, thus, according to Nanos, Gentile salvation flows from Israel.

Rather than arrogantly assuming they have replaced fallen Israel, the gentiles are to recognize they must be servants of Israel’s salvation even as Paul is, for it is Israel’s success and not her failure that will bring the “revealing of the sons of God” for which the “creation” is anxiously longing (8:19).

-ibid, pg 255

Continuing to comment on Romans 11, Nanos says that the “mystery” is not if but how “all Israel will be saved” when it is stumbling.

I found Nanos less than completely revealing about who or what he thought “all Israel” was, whether a believing remnant of the Jewish people or miraculously, through the two-step process and the jealousy he provoked with his mission, literally all Israel would rise to become a light to the nations, as Paul had, and be the catalyst for a multi-national revival that would herald the return of Messiah.

tzitzitMany of my reviews of the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series The Promise of What is to Come, including Exile and Redemption and Ingathering of Israel address the process of the people of the nations taking hold of the Jewish people in order to join with them in learning of the God of Jacob, and praying in the Temple of Israel, so again, this idea of mutual dependence and participation in Israel’s national redemption and the restoration of the world is not without support.

According to Nanos, Jewish “hardness” (Romans 11:7) will end when the Gentiles enter in their fullness (Romans 15:29).

Chapter 6, the final chapter in the book, will likely make some Christians feel uncomfortable since it addresses “Christian Obedience to Synagogue Authority” based on Romans 13:1-7:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

The usual Christian interpretation of these verses is as Paul’s general injunction for believers to be subject to governmental authorities as well as employers and the like. However Nanos notes that it is an odd contextual diversion from the themes before and after, and he suggests that Paul is actually talking about the local synagogue authorities, advising the Gentile believers who are in the synagogue as to their proper response to the synagogue leadership (and the taxes being mentioned would be the Temple taxes, collected in diaspora synagogues and sent to Jerusalem).

This brings up the interesting question about whether or not believing Gentiles should respond to non-believing Jewish leadership in a Jewish synagogue setting while believers and non-believers are worshiping God in a common Jewish context. Citing verse 1 in Romans 13, Nanos quotes Paul saying that the “governing authorities” derive their authority from God. Again, the Church interprets this as saying any authority on earth in any capacity was given that authority by God, but in this context, Paul is saying that synagogue authority is from God and should be responded to as such by the Gentile believers present.

This is going to make many Christian readers bristle, but it at least implies that God was not done with even the non-believing Jews and indeed still recognized them as Israel, as His chosen and called out people, perhaps (my interpretation) due to the Mosaic covenant. That would mean the Mosaic covenant was still in force and that the beginnings of the New Covenant which, linked with certain conditions of the Abrahamic covenant, allowed Gentile entry into Jewish religious space without the requirement of conversion, was all additive rather than the later covenant replacing the earlier one (see Galatians 3:18).

Paul in his letter to the Romans, as Nanos frames its overall theme, is desperately concerned with bringing the non-believing Jews into Messiah faith and he wrote a strong warning to the believing Gentiles not to act as a stumbling block by disregarding Jewish sensitivities of Gentiles in their midst, but instead to comply with “obedience of faith,” which Paul defined as the apostolic decree. The apostolic decree established a legal status for the Gentile believers somewhat like “permanent alien residents” within national Israel, and draws the reader’s attention to the following:

and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;
and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;
and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

Romans 15:9-12 (NASB)

To which Nanos responds:

Christian gentiles worshiping the One God in the midst of the congregation of Israel — my point exactly!

-Nanos, Chapter 6, pg 326

PaulPaul is urging the Gentile believers to take note of their position, their role, and their halachic status as “resident aliens” within the midst of corporate Israel, which here is the synagogue context in Rome.

Citing Romans 13:3-4, Nanos says that Paul did not believe the synagogue leaders were always right in their rulings (something of an understatement considering how many different leaders in many different synagogues in the diaspora had Paul thrown out, driven out, arrested, beaten, ridiculed, pursued, and so forth), but that they did have a right to administer their own religious and community space.

And there would be consequences for disobedience:

Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Romans 13:2 (NASB)

I was somewhat reminded of a paper written by Noel S. Rabbinowitz called Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and Does He Endorse Their Halakhah (PDF). I invite you to read the paper yourself, but in short, Rabbinowitz concludes that while Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees (or some of them) on a number of issues, he did recognize that they did have the legal authority to establish binding rulings upon those who operated within the Pharisaic realm.

The implication is that the synagogue leaders of Rome also had the same God-assigned authority even if they didn’t always use it wisely (this also speaks to later Rabbinic Judaism and the authority of the sages in making halachah).

Looking back on the book as a whole, does Nanos make his point? I think so for the most part. As a non-scholar in New Testament studies, I’m obviously operating with certain weaknesses, but the benefit I see from Nanos’ research is that he shows us a Paul that acts like a sane human being; one who is consistent with his message across time (as measured by what we see of him in Luke’s Acts and Paul’s various letters). This is a serious refactoring of our typical understanding of Romans, so it deserves careful consideration, however, Church tradition about this letter, having been established many centuries ago, has not been given a serious “shake up” until now. I’m sure it’s time.

Just because the Church has had a tradition that typically interprets Romans in a certain way doesn’t make that tradition correct, especially as it was formed out of a long history in Christianity desiring to disconnect Judaism in all its forms from the Church and to establish the ascendency of the Church over the Jewish people and Judaism.

This “new perspective on Paul” has merit and seems to fit a perspective where God does not break, fold, spindle, or mutilate any of his former promises to Israel for the sake of Gentile admission. Rather, the first advent of Messiah and the beginning inclusion of Gentiles as co-participants in salvation and the restoration of Israel creates a seamless continuation “between the two testaments” rather than a jarring “jumping tracks” from the “Old” to the “New.” This is what you’d expect of a creative, all-powerful, always truthful, and organized God.

The Mystery of Romans: Apostolic Decree and the Obedience of Faith

Apostolic DecreeIt is important to note that the major tenets of the decree were practiced by the early Christian gentiles for several centuries, although this fact is not considered by most scholars to demonstrate that Paul accepted or taught it in his gentile mission. Somehow it is assumed that Paul was generally unaware of the decree, or that if he was aware of it he did not accept it. Why has Christianity so overlooked this feature of Paul’s missionary teaching?

-Mark Nanos
“Chapter 4: The Apostolic Decree and the ‘Obedience of Faith,'” pp 201-2
The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters

I’m finally able to get back to my series of reviews on this landmark book of Nanos’. I’m not going to pick through the entire chapter, but the section of Chapter 4 called “The Apostolic Decree and the Message of Romans” caught my attention. I’m rather interested in the legal decision of the Council of Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15) that established binding halachah on the Gentile disciples of the Jewish religious stream known as “the Way.” My opinion is that Paul very much had to know about this decree and certainly, if he considered himself under the authority of the Council, an authority established by Messiah, then agree or not, Paul had to accept it and even teach it.

And how could Paul not be aware of this decree?

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

Acts 15:1-2 (NASB)

So Paul, Barnabas, and their Jewish opponents traveled to Jerusalem together to seek out the Council’s authority on the matter in dispute (whether or not Gentiles had to convert to Judaism and take on the full yoke of Torah as an obligation in order to enter into the Messianic religious order), which would include giving testimony and being present for the final verdict. I have no idea how any New Testament scholar could miss so obvious a passage of scripture.

As I did previously, I’m going to review my notes and “brain dump” the data here with just a bit of polishing. Hopefully, this will carry the meaning of this section of the chapter and my impressions of the information presented.

In stark contrast to this consensus, however, I see the apostolic decree operating in the background of Paul’s bold “reminder” to Rome. In addition to his clear agenda to explain the new status of the gentile believing in Jesus Christ as equal, though governed by the principles of behavior outlined for the “righteous gentile” in the Council’s apostolic decree, several specific references suggest that his addressees share with Paul the knowledge of the decree in its original, though certainly fluid format. We have seen how central the issue of accommodating the dietary concerns of the “weak” were in order to win them to faith in Christ. Further, I find traces in the formal feature of the opening and closing of the letter, in the rhetorical structure, and in several key phrases and concepts that Romans is actually Paul’s exposition, by way of reminder, of the apostolic decree in view of his intended visit, and yet necessary delay.

-Nanos, pp 206-7

My commentary on Chapter 3 mentioned that the “reminder” was Paul to the Gentile believers in Rome, reasserting the form and function of the Gentile’s role in “the Way” in relation to the Jewish believers in specific and Jewish people in general. The “weak” were not the Jewish believers who felt they had to continue observing the Torah mitzvoth as opposed to accepting the grace of Christ, but rather the Jewish non-believers who were struggling with accepting faith in Yeshua as Messiah. A large part of the apostolic decree was designed to allow a basic relationship between the believing Gentiles and Jewish people. The so-called “strong” were over-emphasizing their “freedom” from Torah at the expense of the Jewish non-believers they associated with in the synagogue, damaging the reputation of Messiah and “the Way” as a Judaism.

King Priest TorahWe see from the general message in Galatians that Paul did not support Gentile conversion to Judaism as a requirement for justification before God, and that he stated point-blank that if the Gentiles were to allow themselves to be circumcised and convert, they would be obligated to the full yoke of the Torah, and the sacrifice of Messiah would become useless (Galatians 5:1-2). Applying that to Romans, Paul knew that the Gentiles were not obligated to the Torah in the manner of the Jews and also knew that the apostolic decree established an alternate set of behavioral constraints and requirements that defined the role of the Gentile disciple, not only in relation to God, but to the Jewish people as well.

He is responsible for the “obedience of the Gentiles” that results from his apostolic preaching of the gospel (15:18-19, 20ff.) and he will not be satisfied with the situation in Rome until he has arrived to fulfill this obligation (1:14-15)…

Within this context, Paul is expecting the “obedience of the Gentiles” to conform to the apostolic decree for the sake of the unbelieving Jews that they may not be further alienated from Messiah, but drawn nearer. It was within the power of the Gentiles in Rome to “thumb their noses” as it were to the Jewish people, but that would result in pushing Jews who were already doubtful that the crucified Rabbi from Nazareth was the Messiah into complete rejection.

The key statement in this part of Chapter 4 is this:

It is Paul’s hope that the Romans will receive him and his message of their obligations with respect to the decree in the same positive way as we find Luke describes (Acts 15:30-31) Paul’s earlier missionary reception. For the decree was not an unwelcome burden, but a powerful declaration of the inclusion of gentiles as equals, by faith and without becoming Jews, in the people of God. It was a sign of the fulfillment of the eschatological promise of the blessings for all the world in Israel’s Christ. And it was understood to be a minimal demonstration of appropriate purity behavior for association with the Jewish community (Israel, the historical people of God), on the part of the gentiles who maintained they had become equal coparticipants in the promised blessings. Indeed, it bore witness to their indebtedness to Israel for her present suffering on their behalf.

-Nanos, pg 211

The apostolic decree was the minimum set of standards required of the Gentiles to honor their indebtedness to the Jewish people and Israel as a whole for the realized blessings that resulted in Gentiles being equal coparticipants in salvation and reconciliation with God without having to be circumcised (convert) and be obligated to the full Torah.

My understanding is that the Gentiles could accept more than the minimum requirements up to and including the full “yoke of the Lord,” but this was entirely voluntary. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, we see the opposite happening. The Gentile believers in Paul’s readership were not even achieving the minimums set out in the apostolic decree and failing to acknowledge the Jewish people as the source of the blessings they were so comfortably operating within.

Gentile obedience to the decrees of the Council would result in the proper display of the relationship between non-Jewish believers and the general Jewish community, and disobedience sacrifices the “weak” among the Jews in the Roman synagogue to a failure of faith in Messiah.

I find an interesting parallel in Paul’s writing in how the Church approaches the Jewish people today. Christianity in the modern era also flaunts its “freedom” to the Jews and conversely denigrates the Torah, claiming that Jews are now “free from the Law” as if that would be some great relief to Jewish people. Gentile Christians would blithely eliminate the Torah from the lives of Jewish converts to Christianity, ignoring the destruction of Jewish identity and ultimately the Jewish people as a separated and called out nation before God.

Today, we “gentilize” the Jews as well as the modern incarnation of Jewish religion of “the Way” (i.e. “the Church) in the same manner as the Gentiles Paul was addressing in Rome. We in the Church are just as disobedient to the binding decrees of those whom Jesus assigned authority to as were the Roman Christians in Paul’s letter. Granted, much has changed since the apostolic era, and the body of Christ is totally separated from its “Jewish roots,” but that condition is not permanent.

The programmatic “obedience of faith” echoes the spirit of the Jerusalem Council’s intentions in setting forth the need for the Christian gentiles of Rome to obey the particulars outlined in the apostolic decree. Paul was concerned to remind them boldly of proper monotheistic behavior for “righteous gentiles” in their association with non-Christian Jews, and specifically halakhic matters of dietary and sexual conduct (12:1-15:3).

…Whatever grammatical construct one might prefer, the “obedience of faith” articulated Paul’s uncompromising commitment to the deeper intentions of the Shema, embracing both the election of Israel and the inclusion of gentiles equally — for God is One! The contours of Paul’s argument have been overlooked because interpreters have misunderstood his focus on gentile inclusion through faith alone, ostensibly dismissing Torah obedience as obsolete. However, if we recognize that Paul was addressing Christian gentiles tempted to consider themselves as having supplanted Israel and thus no longer obligated to obey “the teaching” of the apostolic decree (for why would they need to be concerned with the “acceptance” of the “stumbling” of Israel and their “opinions” of the proper purity behavior for “righteous gentiles”; if Israel had been cut off they are free to eat all things!), then we can readily follow Paul’s nuanced discussion of circumcision and Torah.

-Nanos, pp 237-8

going-to-church-sketchesGentiles who consider themselves as having supplanted the Jewish people in the blessings of God due to their faith in Messiah do not enhance Jewish desire to approach Messiah-faith, but inhibit it. By considering the apostolic authority to bind the Gentile disciples to a set of principles as obsolete, along with the Torah, these Roman Gentile Christians were sowing the first seeds of dissention that would eventually lead to complete restructuring of “the Way” from one Jewish religious stream among several in the late Second Temple period, to a completely separate Gentile religion in the first decades of the common era, totally divorced from its origins and its apostolic Jewish mentors.

And “the Church” hasn’t stopped being disobedient yet. In fact, we’ve compounded the problem by insisting that the only proper response to the Jewish Messiah for a Jew is to abandon the Torah, abandon Judaism, and abandon being a Jew, convert to being a Gentile, and to also thumb their noses at the eternal relationship between God and Israel.

The Children of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever that in a six-day period Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.

Exodus 31:16-17 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name:

“If this fixed order departs
From before Me,” declares the Lord,
“Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”

Thus says the Lord,

“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the Lord

Jeremiah 31:35-37 (NASB)

No amount of exegetical “tweaking” of the Bible can delete God’s promises of an eternal relationship with Israel, the Jewish people. Reading Paul as is done traditionally in Christianity requires a great deal of “retrofitting” of the older texts to somehow make God seem to be saying the exact opposite of what we read in Exodus 31 and Jeremiah 31. Mark Nanos and other New Testament scholars like him are boldly forging ahead into territory that restores the “Judaism” back to the Jewish text of the Bible. Paul is not praising the Gentiles for their “lawlessness” and castigating the believing Jews for their continued “addiction” to the Torah. Quite the opposite.

In this chapter, we see Paul continuing to urge the Gentile believers to cleave to the “obedience of faith,” the standards established by the Council in Jerusalem, for the sake of the Jewish people, particularly those Paul was desperate to have come to faith in Messiah.

Mark NanosI can only hope that books like The Mystery of Romans and ministries such as First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) will eventually, and by the will and grace of God, restore the balance, even as Paul was attempting to restore the balance between the Gentile believers and the Jews in Rome. Paul’s efforts ultimately failed, as I think he suspected they would, but as the time of the Messiah’s return approaches, the Spirit is helping us to get out the message of restoration and renewal as God originally planned. Much has been lost to the believers in Jesus over these last twenty centuries. I believe that the time has come for us to take it back.

I hope to continue with my review of the Nanos book soon.

The Mystery of Romans: Who are the “Weak” and the “Strong”?

Apostle-Paul-PreachesWelcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Romans 14:1-12 (NASB)

I’ve just finished reading the third chapter in the Mark D. Nanos book The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters. Yes, it did take me a long time and for two reasons. Nanos is quite erudite in his writing, packing each page densely with information. I have to take copious notes on all points of interest while I’m reading. Thus reading and writing while I’m reading makes for slow going.

But I’ve gotten through the eighty pages of “Chapter 3: Who Were the ‘Weak’ and the ‘Strong’ in Rome?” Hint: they aren’t who you think they are, at least according to Nanos.

But first things first.

There is almost universal agreement (it appears to be an almost unquestioned fact) that the “weak” were Christian Jews who still practiced the Law and Jewish customs (with most maintaining that this group would have included “God-fearing” gentiles as well), and that the “strong” were Christian gentiles (as well as Christian Jews like Paul who have supposedly abandoned Jewish practices).

-Nanos, Chapter 3, pg 87

Mark NanosIn my previous review of Chapter 1 of this book, I noted that Nanos takes a high view of Jewish Torah observance and a Gentile “Torah-respecting” lifestyle, meaning that, from a Pauline perspective (according to Nanos), Gentiles in the ancient Messianic Jewish communities were expected to support and uphold Jewish Torah observance while at the same time, conforming to the application of Torah to the Gentile believers as defined by the halakhic decision made by James and the Elders and Apostles in Acts 15 (which was probably supported and expanded by an oral teaching that accompanied the “Jerusalem letter,” the Didache being one possibility).

I mention this, because it must be taken into account in the current conversation, for this position is the template for everything that follows in Nanos’ analysis of Paul’s famous letter to the Romans.

Let’s cut to the chase:

Paul was not concerned with distinguishing between Christian Jews/gentiles who practiced (“weak”) or did not practice (“strong”) the Law and customs, with the hope that all would eventually abandon the Law and customers as they grew stronger in their faith in Christ. His concern was rather that all the non-Christian Jews (“stumbling” in faith toward Christ) in Rome would recognize that Jesus was the Christ of Israel, their Savior, and that they would thus believe in Christ and become Christians (“able” to have faith toward Christ) — Christian Jews. As Christian Jews they would indeed continue to be Jews in that they continue to practice the Law and Jewish customs in faith, not in order to justify themselves, but because they are Jews justified by the Jewish Savior/Messiah/Christ, thus joining with gentiles who are Christians in giving glory with “one accord” and thus “one voice” to the One Lord: “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:6).

-Nanos, pp 154-5

In order to make that explanation work, the believing Gentiles and believing Jews must share a common synagogue or synagogues in Rome with the non-believing Jews. This isn’t as incredible as you might think. Most people assume that whenever Jews and Gentile God-fearers came to faith in Messiah, they left the synagogue and formed their own house churches. Sometimes that was true, but not always. Nanos and the resources he cites (you’ll have to see the book for the entire bibliography) support the idea that the believing body of Jews and Gentiles in Rome remained in their synagogue communities once they came to faith.

ancient-torahFor the Jewish believers, this probably seemed like a no-brainer at the time, since coming to faith in Yeshua as Messiah in the mid-first century was not particularly strange, and it certainly didn’t mean that the believing Jew was converting to a different religion as it would mean today if a Jew came to faith in Jesus and started going to Church (and for Messianic Jews today, they remain within Judaism as did Paul and the other Jewish believers in the apostolic era).

Also, Gentile God-fearers were commonly found in diaspora synagogues and although they had no covenant status reconciling them with God (unless some pre-Rabbinic status of “Noahide” were conferred upon them), nevertheless, they had come to believe that the God of Israel was the God over all. Once these Gentiles came to faith in Messiah, their was no requirement that their worship practices should change for after all, they were disciples of the Jewish Messiah King. Where else should they be but among Messiah’s people Israel? In fact, James and the Apostles in Jerusalem made this very point:

Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.”

Acts 15:19-21 (NASB)

Once coming to faith in Messiah, in order to fully comprehend and practice his teachings, it was necessary to continue accessing his “source material,” which, according to the ruling of the Council, were to be found in the Torah and the Prophets.

Those Jews and Gentiles in the local Roman synagogues who came to faith while davening and worshiping within those communities would still be attached to those communities, to their friends, to the Rabbis. And since Yeshua-worship wasn’t inherently “non-Jewish,” Nanos suggests the believing Gentiles and Jews would have remained in their original synagogues.

Why should we care about this?

Because we have several populations co-mingling within a single religious and community setting: non-believing Jews, believing Jews, and believing Gentiles.

Now this next point is important. As Gentile God-fearers, the non-Jews who regularly attended synagogue would have been observing a set of behaviors that would allow them to co-participate in the community without violating the requirements of Torah observant Jews. They would eat the same foods, probably pray the same prayers or prayers modified for non-Jewish people, and otherwise not interfere with the Jewish “ascendency” in their own synagogue.

In other words, they wouldn’t make waves.

But once the God-fearers became believers and realized, through Paul as well as through the halakhic ruling of the Apostles, that they were not obligated to convert to Judaism and take on the full yoke of Torah but they were still fully equal co-participants in salvation and justification before God, they got a little cocky.

ancient_jerusalemIn Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the primary problem population (say that three times real fast) were “judaizers,” Jews or Jewish converts who were attempting to convince the Gentile population in the Galatian faith-communities that they had to convert to Judaism to be saved (and probably to re-enforce the idea among the Jewish population that being ethnically Jewish and Torah observant was what justified them before God, not faith in Messiah). The target population of Paul’s letter to Rome had the opposite problem: “gentilizers.”

The believing Jews wouldn’t bat an eye about continued Torah observance. For them, it would be a given, and of course, for the non-believing Jews in the synagogue, why should they change the observance given to them by their forefathers? But for the believing Gentiles, who didn’t have the same set of standards (although they definitely had standard of obedience as disciples), they started to “bug” the non-believing Jews about how now the believing Gentiles were “equal” without having to conform to the full body of Torah mitzvot.

And Paul was taking these Gentiles, the so-called “strong,” to task for disrespecting the “weak” who he felt in time, would also come to faith in Messiah. By their behavior, the Gentile believers were actually in danger of inhibiting Jews from coming to faith in their own Messiah (the parallels between this situation and the modern Christian Church are undeniable).

Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Romans 14:13-23 (NASB)

Nanos asks his readers to look at this passage in sort of the opposite direction than the way we’ve been taught. Also keep in mind that, just like the situation we see in Galatians 2, the issue is table fellowship and offensive treatment, not food. If your brother or sister (here, Paul has to be relating believing Gentiles to non-believing Jews as “brothers and sisters,” perhaps because they attend the same synagogue community) stumbles (in their faith) because you, as a Gentile, are not obligated to keep the kosher laws, you are no longer walking in love.

While the Gentiles were “mere” God-fearers, they were in a “one-down” position in the synagogue because of legal status and let’s face it, it is a Jewish synagogue. Once they became co-participants in salvation because of Abrahamic faith, the Gentile believers became a tad bit obnoxious to the non-believing Jews and stopped “walking in love.”

There’s a lot Nanos says about the halachah of “walking in love” and the two greatest commandments of Jesus (Matthew 22:36-40) that applies here. You can’t really love God if you are taunting your neighbor who is “weak” in faith and has not yet become reconciled to Messiah.

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.

Romans 9:2-3 (NASB)

stuart_dauermannPaul was desperate to share the “good news” to every Jew and he desired, above all else, that his own people should come to faith and redemption. So much so, that he was willing to surrender his own salvation if it would save some of his non-believing Jewish brothers and sisters. Clearly, Paul didn’t see himself, as a believing Jew, in any way disconnected from the larger community of non-believing Jews in Israel or the diaspora or national Israel as a whole. In other words, to reference Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, all Jewish people for Paul were Us, not Them.

I had a tough time with this chapter. I knew that Nanos was going to reframe the “weak vs. strong” argument in Romans 14, 15, but his build up to even stating his point took a long time. I finally had to jump back to the last pages of the chapter so I’d have some idea of what Nanos was getting at. Once I did, I found it easier to make it through the intervening pages.

According to Nanos, the “strong,” the believing Gentiles in the synagogue, should have known better than to try to “gentilize” the non-believing Jews and thus damaging relationships not only with them, but with the believing Jews who were also continuing to observe Torah and the Jewish customs. The Gentiles were cheapening their own “freedom” in Yeshua-faith by suggesting that the Torah devotion of non-believing Jews was a “weakness” on their part. However, Paul was actually saying that where they were weak was not in their faith in God and observance of the mitzvot, but their faith in Yeshua as Messiah. The Gentile “strong” were greater in that faith but ironically, they weren’t that strong either, for they became arrogant in their new status and in lacking love, I suspect they were also “weak” themselves.

Nanos makes such a complex argument, I don’t know that I can completely apprehend all of the nuances in just one reading, but I don’t really have the time to pour weeks more of study into a single chapter. The Mystery of Romans is such a compact container for such a large amount of data that I have no doubt I’ll have to read it a second time (or more) to tease out additional understanding and meaning. For now, I’m willing to entertain the idea that the “weak” and the “strong” can conform to an alternate meaning and in fact, they must if Paul is to remain consistent as a personality and in his theology throughout his letters and as depicted by Luke in Acts.

Addendum: Having just finished Chapter 4, a number of the points Nanos made about “weak” and “strong” are clearer, especially in relation to Gentile behavioral responsibilities toward Jewish people in general (both believing and non-believing). My next “meditation” on the Nanos book should be a great deal more coherent.

Where Romans and Galatians Meet: Analysis by Mark Nanos

Mark NanosBut when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, 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 2:11-14 (NASB)

Table-fellowship, particularly in the context of gentile participation, was a significant concern among Diaspora Jews. The many laws and customs that made it necessary generally to separate from association in gentile meals, or from the eating of many gentile foods whether in the company of gentiles or not, made table-fellowship a notable issue. Jews often avoided meat and wine, for it was necessarily tainted by idolatry in Diaspora cities, unless special provisions had been made. However, Jews did eat with gentiles, given proper circumstances. And in the context of “righteous gentiles” attending synagogue this matter became a regular necessity.

Gentiles attending synagogue and participating in the lifestyle of the Jewish community, or visiting Jewish homes, were expected to adopt minimal Jewish practices. This behavior demonstrated respect not only for Jewish sensitivities, but in the mind of the Jews at least, it represented respect for the righteousness of God that would be expected to accompany the faith of the “righteous gentile” — for God is holy.

-Mark D. Nanos
“Chapter 2: The Historical Backdrop and Implied Audience,” pg 56
The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters

No, I haven’t stopped reading this book, but the demands on my discretionary time plus the dense commentary in the Nanos book have slowed me down considerably. I just finished Chapter 2 (as I write this) but decided to take a detour into “Summary and Appendix 1: Peter’s Hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-21) in light of Paul’s Anxiety (Rom. 7).” Given my lengthy and sometimes frustrating review of the Book of Galatians with my Pastor, I felt it necessary to get in some additional reading beyond Lancaster’s The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach (although it seems my conversations on Galatians have reached a premature end).

I must admit, I too have had a difficult time fitting “Peter’s hypocrisy” and Paul’s criticism into my overall understanding of Paul’s relationship with the Torah as a Jew and an Apostle of Messiah. In a little over thirty pages though, Nanos managed to clear things up for me. It never occurred to me to look at that passage from the point of view Nanos presents.

In the first part of Appendix 1, Nanos reviews the traditional interpretation of Galatians 2:11-21, that Peter had been living like a Gentile, that is, not observing a Torah or Jewish lifestyle and eating all manner of non-kosher food at the same table as the Gentile disciples in Antioch. Then Torah observant Jews from James came to visit, and as a result of peer pressure, Peter separated himself from the Gentiles and resumed a Torah lifestyle, inducing others including Barnabas to do likewise. Paul calls Peter out for his hypocrisy, that he could live a Torah-free life with the Gentiles one minute, and then, weakening to pressure applied by more traditional Jews, back off from his “freedom” from Torah and rejoin the “circumcision party.”

But Paul says something else in verse 14:

…how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

The Mystery of RomansWe tend to miss that part of the verse but it may hold the key to understanding everything Paul is saying about Peter.

But first, lets take a look at how Nanos describes a mixed Jewish/Gentile synagogue in the city of Rome:

That is, the early Roman Christian communities were functioning as subgroups within the larger synagogue communities at the time of Paul’s letter, and Paul hoped that they would hear (shema) his epideictic message in a manner that would enhance their adherence to righteousness and the worship of the One God of Israel as the One God of the world even before his arrival. They would then be found fulfilling the eschatological expectation of Israel: gentiles declaring the Shema in the midst of the congregation of Israel to the glory of God, the One God of all.

-Nanos, “Summary and Appendix 1: Peter’s Hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-21) in light of Paul’s Anxiety (Rom. 7),” pg 338

Nanos paints a portrait of Jews and Gentiles worshiping within a subset of larger Judaism and the larger Jewish synagogue community in Rome, with Jewish believers continuing to live Jewish lifestyles, including Torah observance, and Gentile believers living in respect of the Torah lifestyle of their Jewish mentors, and living within the behavioral constructs of the Noahide laws (Genesis 9) and the Apostolic Decrees (Acts 15). They enjoyed table fellowship with the Gentiles either consuming food totally acceptable to the Jewish believers or with the Jews restricting their diet to vegetables and water while sharing a table with gentiles.

So what’s Peter’s problem or for that matter, Paul’s? In the context of Galatians 2 not only does Paul say that Peter is living like a Gentile, but it is implied that Paul is too. Did both of these Jewish men apostate from Judaism and convert to Gentile Christianity? Like much of Christian doctrine teaches, did Christ turn Jewish believers into Gentiles?

The argument of the Church is that the disagreement is about food, that is, Peter was eating “trief” like a Gentile, having abandoned a kosher diet and presumably everything else about the Law. How like the misunderstandings most Christians have about Acts 10 and Peter’s vision. Was that about food, too?

I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.

Acts 10:34 (NASB)

peters-vision-doug-jaquesPeter’s vision is recorded by Luke in verses 9-16 and verse 17 testifies that Peter did not know what the vision meant. We see that Peter finally figured it out by verse 34. The vision wasn’t about food, it was about equality. God was telling Peter that the Gentiles had equal access to justification before God through faith, just as the Jews have. He even testifies of that equality in a legal hearing in Jerusalem some time later (See Paul on Trial by John W. Mauck for more detailed information about the nature of the legal hearing in Acts 15):

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

Acts 15:8-9 (NASB)

On pages 342-3 of his appendix, Nanos says this about the Church and Galatians 2:

The traditional assumption is of course that Paul opposed Peter in Antioch because of Peter’s change of behavior with respect to food.

But just as food wasn’t the issue in Acts 10, neither is it the issue in Galatians 2 according to Nanos.

Nanos goes on to say that if the traditional Christian interpretation of these verses is correct, then Paul had to have been saying there are no Jews in Christ, because to set aside the Law and live like Gentiles would make the Jewish believers no longer Jews. There would be only Gentiles (born Gentiles and formerly Jewish Gentiles) in Christ.

This contradicts the Bible on so many different levels it makes my head spin (although even an apostate Jew is still Jewish…you can’t become “unJewish”). You’d have to completely ignore all of the Messianic prophesies in the Tanakh (Old Testament) to make that interpretation work.

As already mentioned, the traditional interpretation of Paul’s rebuke of Peter turns on the issue of food. Although the balance of the letter is read with respect to the issue of justification by faith in Christ, and the explicit use of justification language in Galatians is concentrated around this incident, yet the traditional interpretation obscures the focus on justification in verse 14. I suggest that the language of Paul’s rebuke centers on the same justification language as the surrounding context, namely the position of one justified, that is, living “in Christ” by faith, whether “Jews by nature” (“even we” of 2:16) or “gentile sinners,” as equals. It is thus Peter’s withdrawal, not food, that is at issue in Antioch; what was eaten or how it was eaten was not the reason for Peter’s withdrawal. The issue entirely concerned those with whom he had been eating and then withdrawn; his exclusion of gentiles was because they were gentiles, not because they ate offensive food or in offensive ways.

-Nanos, pp 347-8

Apostle-Paul-PreachesGalatians 3:28 famously declares that there are no Greeks or Jews, no men or women, no slaves or freemen, but all of them are one in Christ. But just as women don’t have to turn into men to become saved in Messiah, neither do Gentiles have to turn into Jews or Jews turn into Gentiles to become disciples of Messiah. The “oneness” is as equal co-participants in the community with equal access to justification and the blessings of God.

What Peter was doing was indeed responding to peer pressure and as a result withdrawing from close association from the Gentile disciples, but it had nothing to do with Peter’s eating habits or Jewish vs. Gentile lifestyle. His hypocrisy had to do with accepting Gentiles as co-participants previously, and then treating them like second-class citizens by withdrawing from them when Jews from James showed up.

The issue of Galatians 2:11-21 was the same issue as the rest of the book of Galatians: Gentiles do not have to become circumcised and convert to Judaism, taking on board the full yoke of Torah in order to be justified before God and equal co-participants in the community of faith. Look at verse 14 again:

…how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Peter was putting up the dividing wall that Paul was trying so hard to break down by saying Jews had a superior position in Christ and in justification and that only by compelling the Gentile disciples to live like Jews (convert to Judaism) would they be saved, undoing all of the blessings of Christ upon the world.

No wonder Paul was furious. Peter just slapped him and all of the Gentile disciples in the face by his withdrawal and worse, he compelled other faithful Jewish disciples, including Barnabas, to do the same.

Nanos wrote this appendix because of the apparent conflict, especially in light of his interpretation of Romans, between Romans 7 and Galatians 2. I’m only summarizing what he has to say. To get all of the details, you’ll need to read the Nanos book.

In Romans, Paul is encouraging Torah observance for the Jewish believers and respectfulness for the Torah and for Jewish observance from the Gentiles. However, much of Galatians, including Galatians 2, seems to contradict this. Nanos wrote this summary and appendix to set the record straight, or at least to give his readers something to think about.

Hopefully, this has given some of my readers something to think about as well.

The Mystery of Romans: A Review of Chapter One

The Mystery of RomansMoreover, Paul does not seem to be confronting an inflated view of the Torah in Rome among the Christian gentiles (“judaizing”) as is often assumed. Instead, he confronts the failure of the Christian gentiles in Rome to respect the role of Torah in the life of Israel as God’s special gift; in fact, he emphatically elevates the status of the Torah. Note, for example, the great advantage of the Jewish people is “that they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (3:2), and elsewhere in the litany of Jewish privileges he includes “the giving of the Law” (9:4); that the “Law is spiritual” (7:14) and again, “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (7:12); and further that “the gifts [which clearly included as central the Law; cf. 9:4] and the calling [Israel’s election] of God are irrevocable” (11:29). Paul refers to the “Law of faith (3:27) and asserts that he is not teaching that faith nullifies the Law: “Christ is the end [goal] of the Law” (10:4). In fact, he even regards the “love” he is calling for among his Christian gentile readers “the fulfillment of the law” (13:8-10; cf. 8:4), not a demonstration of its failure but the embodiment of its true aims.

-Mark D. Nanos
“Chapter 1: To the Jew First and Also to the Greek,” pg 22
The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letter

No, I haven’t given up on my serial review of the articles in First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) periodical Messiah Journal issue 114, but I’m also reading the Nanos “Romans” book (his book on Galatians is waiting in the wings) and I want to discuss my impressions so far (just gotten through Chapter 1 at this point).

As I read, I usually keep some post-it notes and a pen handy to take notes and stick on the appropriate pages for later reference (beats marking up the inside of the book with my poor handwriting). All I’m going to do here is review my notes and do a “data dump” into this blog post, along with a few of my thoughts on the matters brought up. To start off, I can certainly see why Nanos is considered “Messianic Judaism-friendly”.

For instance, in footnote 5 on page 23:

I don’t mean to suggest the doing of the Law was an “entrance requirement” for salvation, but rather the application of the Law and Jewish customs to the lifestyle of those believing in Jesus as the Christ; for the Jew believing in Christ Jesus would continue to be a Jew and thus obey the Law, and the gentile believing in Christ Jesus would continue to be a gentile and thus not under the Law, however, the gentile would now through Christ Jesus have a new relationship with Israel that made it necessary to respect the “rules of behavior” that had been developed in Judaism to define the minimal requirements of Law and custom for the “God-fearing” gentile wishing to associate with God and his people. Thus the phrase “Law-respectful gospel” is offered here to contrast with the “Law-free gospel” usually assumed to represent Paul and Pauline Christianity, incorrectly in my opinion.

A lot is packed into that one short paragraph regarding Nanos and his opinions on the relationship Jews and Gentiles in Messiah have with Torah, the Gospel, and each other. He is definite that the “Messianic Jew” remains a Jew and thus fully bound to the Torah of Moses, while the Gentile is bound, not to Torah as such, but to the essentials of the Acts 15 legal ruling that authoritatively established the halachah for Gentile admission into “the Way.”

Nanos, in my opinion, is also correct in saying that much of Christianity believes that Paul established a “law-free gospel” for both Gentiles and Jews in Christ and that the Church’s viewpoint has largely ignored what Paul was really saying. The quote from page 22 of the Nanos book above shows multiple examples of how Paul had a high view of Torah for the Jewish people in Messiah (and all of Israel). We also see from the “footnote 5” quote that Gentiles were admitted into the community of Messiah but with a different legal status than the Jews, one that did not make them “Israel” but that affirmed the Jewish people as “Israel” and “God’s people”. Gentiles are “associating” with God and Israel within the Messianic body.

That’s disturbing language for some Christians and Hebrew Roots adherents as it appears to develop “classes” within the body of Messiah, with the Jews in the ascendant position and the Gentiles being subordinate to them. My Pastor is an example of a Christian who believes Jews and Gentiles are totally uniform in identity and status based on the absence of the Law, while many in Hebrew Roots believe in the same uniformity, but based on an identical binding of Jew and Gentile to Torah.

Nanos also associates “Law-respecting lifestyle” for the Gentile with the concept of halachah, which literally means “walking” and denotes rules of behavior, usually as legally defined within a Rabbinic Jewish court system. As Nanos says, “it denotes rules of behavior…and is a frequent idiom in the Bible as well for discussing proper behavior” (pg 22, footnote 6). This again harkens back to the Acts 15 decision for Gentile disciples, which Paul appears to be upholding in his letter to the Romans (chapters 5-16, according to Nanos, and particularly chapter 14).

Upon his arrival he would execute his customary two-step pattern to ensure the restoration of the dispersed of Israel in the synagogues of Rome first, thereafter bringing the good news to the gentiles also, which was, surprisingly, a necessary part of the process of Israel’s restoration, a “mystery” in which those addressed shared an extremely significant role.

-Nanos, pg 26

everlastingI’ve been writing about the “extremely significant role” of gentile Christians as “a necessary part of the process of Israel’s restoration” ever since I attended my first FFOZ Shavuot conference in May of 2012. I often include a link to my blog post Provoking Zealousness as an illustration of this principle. I originally wondered where Boaz Michael came up with such a concept, and I can see now that in part, it must have come from the research and writing of Mark Nanos.

In May 2012, this whole idea of the Gentiles exalted role in relation to Israel was as clear as “Mississippi mud” to me, but I chose to struggle with it rather than discarding it out of hand. I’m glad I did. Things are much clearer for me now.

Paul’s concerns are those of a Jewish missionary, and his message and framework of thinking are those of one who considers himself working within the historical expectations of Israel — the Savior of Israel has come to Zion to rebuild the tabernacle of David and to bring light to all the nations — for the One God of Israel is the One God of the whole world.

-ibid, pp 26-7

I don’t know if Boaz Michael was thinking of Nanos when he conceived of and authored his book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile, but the connection seems very apparent, and dovetails well with Boaz’s message to the “Messianic Gentile” audience of the book in how we have a critical role in restoring Israel that must be communicated to our traditionally Christian brothers and sisters in the Church.

Notwithstanding the many historical concerns associated with harmonizing the Paul of Romans with the Paul of Luke-Acts (note the conclusion of Beker, “Luke’s Paul as the Legacy of Paul,” p. 511: “The history of research has made it abundantly clear that the attempt to harmonize the historical Paul with the Paul of Luke-Acts has come to a radical end”), features of Luke’s presentation of Paul’s view of Law-respectful behavior and his two-step missionary pattern are to be noted in the Paul we meet in the text of Romans (see particularly chapters 4 and 5 herein). Note the challenge of Jervell, “Retrospect and Prospect in Luke-Acts Interpretation,” on p. 403: “What made the Lucan Paul possible? We have at least three different Pauls: The Paul of the Pauline letters, the Paul of Acts, and the Paul of the deuteropauline letters and Pastorals…”

-ibid, pg 28, footnote 13

I include this note here to illustrate that the confusing image I get of Paul in different parts of the New Testament isn’t some failing on my part. New Testament scholars experience Paul this way too, and struggle to make sense of how one man can present himself or be presented in such contradictory ways. Just who the heck is Paul, anyway? If we are to accept that the New Testament is the inspired Word of God and therefore “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16) then we must believe that all that we read of Paul and about Paul is correct and consistent with a single man, who himself was consistent in regard to his faith in Messiah and his approach to the Jewish people, the Torah, and God.

So if the fault in understanding Paul isn’t to be found in an inconsistent and flawed New Testament record, it must be found in ourselves and how we are reading that inspired record. Where is the Holy Spirit when we need Him the most?

These observations challenge the prevailing views of Paul’s purpose for writing to Rome and, necessarily, the hermeneutical assumptions that lie behind the interpretation of Romans. Was Paul opposed to the practice of the Law and Jewish customs in the church in Rome? Did he believe that the church needed to sever ties with Judaic notions of righteous behavior? Was legalism his central concern, that is, faith versus works or grace versus the law? Was the church a completely separate institution from the synagogue that must seek to assert a Law-free interpretation of salvation and Christian behavior over against Judaism?

-ibid, pp 28-9

My Pastor would probably say “yes” to answer all those questions and then move on as if nothing were wrong, but I can’t do that. Nanos can’t either.

This reading of Romans suggests that the traditional answers to these questions are inadequate and that the historical situation addressed in Romans should be approached in a vastly different light than it has been in the past. For example, the message derived from Paul’s letter to Galatia should not be allowed, as it has so often in the past, to dictate the probable interpretation of Paul’s intentions toward Rome. The implied audience and the circumstances are quite different, including the important fact that Paul had an instrumental role in the development of the community he wrote to in Galatia while he had never been to Rome. Galatians was written to confront Christian gentiles attempting to “judaize,” and thus, in the opinion of Paul, to compromise the universal application of the promised salvation to all people equally through faith in Jesus Christ, whether Jew or gentile, for Paul emphatically argued that the One God of Israel was also the One God of the nations equally accessible to gentiles through faith in Jesus Christ.

ibid, pg 29

Mark NanosTraditional answers are inadequate and we cannot apply the situation and circumstances that inspired Galatians to what we see in Romans. We cannot ignore the context of each letter, the period of time in which each one was written (in all likelihood, Galatians was written before the Acts 15 decision and Romans afterward), Paul’s intent, his state of mind, the identity of his audience, and how they likely would receive and comprehend Paul’s words within their historic, cultural, linguistic, educational, and national context…a context which we either largely lack or ignore in favor of our historical, cultural, and traditional interpretation of Paul within the Christian Protestant church.

Nanos goes on to give a smart summary of why Paul wrote Galatians and how his motivation was different in writing Romans based on different circumstances. The Gentiles in the Galatian churches were somehow led to believe that only by converting to Judaism and observing all of the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews could they be justified before God. This may have been driven by Jewish ethnocentrism or the belief that the Jews and only the Jews had the inside track with God, the Messianic Gospel notwithstanding.

In Romans, the problem seemed to be the opposite among the Gentiles. They believed that the grace of Jesus Christ diminished if not extinguished the binding of the Jewish believers and non-believers to Torah and even watered down any Gentile sensibilities required for Gentile/Jewish fellowship within the synagogue. There seems to have been a dynamic play between the Gentile position and the Jewish “pushback”, with each population asserting that they had the upper hand, the Gentiles because of grace and the Jews because of the Law. Paul was trying to “balance both sides of the equation,” so to speak. No easy task as anyone from the modern Messianic Jewish movement has discovered in speaking with our more traditional Christian brothers in the Church.

These traces have survived in the texts of Romans and the Apostolic Fathers in spite of Roman Christianity’s later disregard for these Jewish roots as it developed into the thoroughly gentile organization (the “gentilization” of the church).

-ibid, pp 32-3

It wasn’t that long ago that I had my own gentilization experience in my Sunday school class, and I can tell you it was disturbing. According to Nanos, we see the first, encroaching shadows of this behavior among the Gentile disciples in the synagogue in Rome, and it has been “snowballing” ever since.

Nanos repeatedly declares in this chapter of his book that Paul’s letter to the Romans was a reminder to the church in Rome, a large group of Gentiles associating with Jews under the authority of the synagogue, “of the importance of their ‘obedience of faith’…to clarify just how important the halakhah that had been developed in the synagogues of the Diaspora to define the behavior incumbant upon righteous gentiles really was now for redefining the Christian gentiles…” (ibid, pg 34).

In modern Judaism, there is also the concept of righteous Gentiles usually associated with those non-Jews who served some role in rescuing Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust, but a Gentile can be considered righteous as a Noahide as well. I find it rather illuminating to classify the status of the early Gentile believers in Jesus the Messiah as “righteous Gentiles” seeing that no one, Jewish or Gentile, has any righteous standing before God apart from faith in Messiah.

On page 37, Nanos states that the Gentile believers were “equal coparticipants in the blessings of God through faith without the need to become Jews.” He goes on to say that the Gentile “coparticipants” possessed an “explicit obligation…to serve non-Christian Jews in love by subordinating themselves to the authority of the synagogue…” inserting the idea that the problem with the Jewish/Gentile relationship in the synagogue did not only involve believing Jews. Was this the first recorded occasion of (Gentile) Christians playing the “grace” and “salvation” card in a game with the Jewish people, asserting superiority over the ancient people of God? Many Christians have historically played that card and many Churches today continue to do so, much to their shame.

However, Romans includes the unmistakable caveat that while Israel’s historical place is preeminent it is not exclusive, and while Christian gentiles must practice the intentions of the apostolic decree they must not misunderstand this and assume, as some were being tempted to assume in Galatia, that they are thereby in need of placing themselves fully under the Law…in order to be equal coparticipants in the blessings God promised to Abraham and revealed in Jesus Christ for all who believe in Him.

-ibid, pp 38-9

returning-the-torahI know I continue to repeat myself, but how like the current difficulties we experience in the Messianic movement were the struggles of Paul and the “church” in Rome. Paul could see clearly their dilemma and ours, but in the final chapter of his life, he was helpless to stop the rift between Gentiles and Jews from forming and ultimately dividing them and us. The question is, can we succeed where Paul (apparently) failed? Paul knew the answers we struggle so hard to acquire and yet he still couldn’t stop destiny’s cruel hand. On the last page of this chapter (40), Nanos reiterates what he said before about the true role of the Gentile in the Jewish community of “the Way”:

…Paul’s intended trip to Rome to bring about in Rome the beginning of the “fulness of the Gentiles.” This procedure would mark, paradoxically, the end of the suffering of the part of Israel presently hardened as it triggered the saving jealousy of “some of them,” resulting in the eschatological restoration of “all” of Israel — for of at least one mystery Paul was certain: “all Israel will be saved.”

The only hope Christianity and the Messianic Jewish movement has of coming to terms and then to unity is in the realization of Paul’s goal for the Romans, the proper orientation of the Gentile believers, not only to Messianic Jews, but to Israel as a whole, and that by provoking Jewish “zealousness” to repentance and Torah, we will not only help in sealing that ancient and bleeding wound, but summon the coming of Messiah, Son of David, may he come soon and in our day.

If this is what only one chapter of the Nanos “Romans” book holds, I’m looking forward to reading (and reviewing) the rest of it.