Where Christians Got it Wrong with Paul

Mark Nanos is on a mission to expound for readers of Paul a Paul who never broke from Judaism. His project, and here we are sketching some of what he says in the book edited by Mike Bird called The Apostle Paul, is both about rhetoric and theology. Nanos, who plays golf well and is a Jewish scholar of Paul, has been stumping for his themes for more than a decade.

The rhetoric is clear: Christians have explained their faith, in particular the theology of Paul, at the expense of Judaism. They have made Paul a champion of freedom by arguing Judaism was slavery, Paul a champion of universalism by arguing Judaism was exclusive and ethnic, and Paul a champion of a religion of grace, faith and love while Judaism comes off looking like a religion of merit, works and legalism.  In a strange irony, Nanos then says “those values that Christians champion… are instead inferior to the values Jews actually uphold” (163). I get his point, but he’s done the same thing he’s accused Christian scholars of doing: comparative descriptions come off as comparative denunciations. But Nanos has the larger end of the stick on this one; he’s right; Christians have failed to comprehend Judaism because they’ve settled for caricatures that they can use to champion their own faith. Though Luke Timothy Johnson, in his response, thinks Nanos has kept a binary opposition by talking about Judaism as if it were “normative Judaism.” Johnson’s contention is that Judaism was more diverse than Nanos suggests. And Campbell thinks this perception of Judaism derives from Melanchthon.

Can you point to a text or texts where you think the Jewish apostle, Paul (or Peter), did not observe Torah? Do you think Paul observed Torah completely? Would you say Paul’s gospel is a kind of Judaism, but still Judaism? Or did he crack the door?

The theology of Paul, then, needs another explanation. If the traditional view made Jews legalists, the new perspective (Nanos argues) makes Jews ethnocentric. He wants to argue neither of these categories belong on the table.

Paul never left Judaism and the only difference between Paul and other forms of Judaism is that Paul’s Judaism had Jesus as the Messiah. Paul was Torah-observant, never left being Torah-observant [I’d quote Acts 23:6 here, but he doesn’t; there Paul says “I am a Pharisee”], and Paul’s mission was to expand the Shema faith of Judaism — One God — to include Gentiles. So, Paul’s mission was including Gentiles into one Judaism. Freedom from the Torah is only for non-Jewish Christians; Jewish Christians remained under the Torah. Schreiner’s response focuses on Paul no longer being Torah observant, and he points to Peter in Galatians 2:11-14 (eating with Gentiles) and Paul saying in Romans 14:20 that all foods were clean.

It is big, then, for Nanos to say a major cutting edge between Paul and other forms of Judaism was that Paul permitted Gentile “conversion” without becoming “proselytes” to Judaism. You could convert to Judaism but did not have to become a Jew by undergoing circumcision. Paul opposes proselyte circumcision for Gentile “converts” to Judaism, because circumcision entails Torah observance, and Gentiles don’t have to obey the whole Torah.

Nanos, then, has a narrowed meaning for “works of the law”: it’s about circumcision. Works of the law ultimately leads to changed ethnicity or to ethnic Jewishness.

Nanos is not alone in thinking Paul didn’t have a “conversion” but instead a “calling” to the Gentiles. I think Nanos’ point can be sustained in some ways but his perception of “conversion” could benefit from conversion theory studies themselves, in which conversion is measured by identity change and not by swapping religions. So, I would argue was converted to a whole new frame of mind but that doesn’t necessarily mean he changed religions, which is the (anachronistic, a la LT Johnson’s response) categories he presses into service. Nanos thinks the term “conversion” muddies the water, and he’s right. So he uses “calling,” which I think muddies the water. Paul’s change is more than simply vocational. He saw everything anew through and in Christ. So convert is a good word, but I would want to respect Nanos’ concern to make sure this does not necessarily mean Paul swapped religions.

The issue, for Nanos then, between Paul’s Judaism and others is “chronometrical”: What is appropriate now that the crucifixion and resurrection have occurred? Are we in a new era or not? Paul says Yes, others say No. In other words, it is eschatological. Or, perhaps even more nuanced, hermeneutical. How do we explain where we are in God’s plan? And it revolves around whether or not Jesus is the Messiah.

The big issue of this whole discussion can be expressed as questions: Did the apostle Paul think all Jews had to believe Jesus was the Messiah to be saved, or to enter the kingdom of God, or the Age to Come? Did he think non-messianic Jews were just as saved as messianic Jews? Was historic Judaism sufficient or did one have to embrace messianic Judaism? Johnson thinks Nanos doesn’t give sufficient attention to the newness in Paul’s gospel.

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  • Scot, how does he deal with Galatians 3, where the Law is presented as a temporary “guardian” for Israel until Messiah? In my understanding, if Paul promotes Jewish religion, it is the patriarchal “faith” of Abraham, not the observance of Torah via Moses.

  • scotmcknight

    Chaplain Mike, Mark Nanos may write in today, but I suspect he’d see only that role of the Torah as a tutor achieving its purpose.

  • Seems to be an interesting read. One thing I found to be interesting is that Eisenbaum in her book, Paul was not a Christian – argues that Paul didn’t expect the gentile believers to take on Torah because Paul believed the ‘Day to Come’ was imminent and so he was obeying the Prophets by gathering the ‘nations’ to feet of YHWH. I’ve also seen some authors look at Acts 15.21 as a point that the Gentiles would ‘learn’ Torah each Sabbath so it was unnecessary for them to take all of it on in order to be considered ‘part’ of Israel now.

    “All food being clean” is an interesting argument that I hear often and found to be missing the point. If I declared ‘all food to be clean’ you wouldn’t assume I was talking about dogs and cats (would you?) – Paul is referring to food items that may have been ‘tainted’ by idols – G_d declares what animals are clean and good for food and nothing that man says or does can override what G_d has declared. At least this seems to be the point Jesus makes in the Gospels.

    Conversion language around Paul is a complicated issue…I agree with you Scot that what Paul experienced was indeed a conversion but unfortunately we read anachronistically with today’s ‘soterian’ mindset.

    Looking forward to reading this soon.

  • Steve

    We must realize that when “the only differance between Paul and Judaism is that He included Christ” is a very big differance. Any form of judaism without Christ is not the same as what Paul believed. Christ is at the center of Christianity and without Him christianity does not exist. Paul believed in redemption through the blood of Jesus and eternal hope in His ressurection. These beliefs are vastly different from the judaism displayed in the gospels, acts and Paul’s letters.

  • JKG

    I think I would be more receptive to Nanos’ position if I were not reading through the Apocrypha right now. I have been surprised by much of what it might say about Jewish religion and culture of that time. The tone and teaching of many of those books is in fact ethnocentric and exclusive, and there is an emphasis on holiness that seems consistent with traditional (perjorative) church teaching on Pharisee manners and attitudes. I did not expect to find this. How would Nanos approach those texts in his thesis?

    On your original question, I suspect Paul would have observed Torah as appropriate to the circumstance. I am tempted to guess that he was Torah observant in those things that a Gentile would not be asked to practice, but gracious toward things that were proscribed (like dietary laws).

  • Michael Teston

    I believe Nanos is correct. Raised in a so called Christian tradition that was constantly accused of “works righteousness” by a soterian slanted and jaded crowd, I became amused over the fact that I never, and I mean never felt or needed to feel as if I had to “do something” to be loved and received by God, never. I’ll say it one more time never. I am convinced that this has been layed over the N.T. text, as it was me, and the Judaism reflected there. I believe it is simply a crazy kind of Protestant “work ethic” transposed into the N.T. which dovetails neatly with the “believe the right things” and you’ll be saved notion. It also dovetails nicely with capitalism and being productive models that abound in such a climate. Usually, “thou complains too much” usually indicates this is an issue with the complainer. It is astonishing to me that those whose whole spiritual drift is along these lines are people whose sense of “self-righteousness” is measured by cultural ladders almost always transferred to a spiritual agenda. I am amused every time I hear someone suggest someone is “working their way to heaven.” Give me a break.

  • It is clear that Paul saw “the Way” as a sect of Judaism. However, the new age, coming in that generation, would wipe out all Jewish-Gentile distinction – even though Paul wouldn’t live to see it.

  • Rodney Reeves

    Did Paul continue to keep the law as an apostle of Christ? Nanos et al. think so. But what about 1 Cor. 9:20-21? Paul says, “yes,” sometimes; sometimes, “no.”

  • Scot, on your last set of questions, I keep thinking that a major thrust of Romans (that the NPP has helped us see better) makes it unthinkable that Paul would have been okay with two ways of salvation. What is Rom 1-3 for if not to put Jews and Gentiles on the same soteriological plane? To put it in the language of Ephesians, allowing two ways of salvation builds the wall right back up again. I confess a deep perplexity about how these sonderweg questions are seriously entertained at the exegetical level. But I probably just need to read more 😉

  • CharlieO

    Hey Scott,
    Since you sort of “brought it up” with this post, could you point toward some resources that would be helpful for pastors with congregants who have become smitten with observing Torah/Feasts (ostensibly out of love and obedience, not as a condition of salvation) and who reject traditional Christian year observances? NOTHING in seminary prepared me for this…
    * and yes, I have read “The King Jesus Gospel”

  • CharlieO

    I meant “Scot”!!!

  • Bill

    I don’t think Paul was promoting “jewish religion” in Galatians or anywhere else. Paul was a Torah-observant Jewish believer in Jesus as the Messiah. I think Galatians is Paul’s attempt to make sure everyone understood that the body of Messaih was now made up of Jews AND Gentiles and that the Jews and the Gentiles were entilted to their distinctives.

    I am a Jew and I am a Jew who believes that Jesus is our Messiah. As a Jew I keep the Sabbath, eat kosher, observe feasts and festivals. I do so because God has commanded it for Jews and because I love God and His ways. It earns me nothing to do any of the things I noted. For me as a Jewish believer I do not accept under any circumstances that Law = bad, Gospel = good. I also do not insist in any way that Gentiles need to do things the Jewish way and I do not accept in any way that a Jew loses his/her Jewishness (or is obligated to do so) when becoming a follower of Jesus.

    Jesus was a Jew and yes, he kept kosher. He did all the things a true Jew would do and He did it the right way.

    We tend to get Paul wrong because we want him to be a Gentile. He wasn’t. He thought as a Jew and he understood Gentiles. He understood their new place among the people of God and he was happy for them and he glorified God. I think Paul was in complete awe that God could pull off getting Jew AND Gentile near to God on an equal playing field and yet remain true to their distinctives.

    I wonder if we understand Paul pretty well but for some reason we do not get (or reject the fact) that he was Jewish and that’s how he lived as a disciple of the Messiah.

  • Interesting discussion. My understanding of the “works of the law” in places like Romans does include circumcision, but it also includes the ceremonial laws that were prescribed by Moses. This was all in keeping for the nation of Israel in order to live as God’s chosen people. The mindset of the Jews were that they were already God’s chosen people, God’s children, Yahweh’s family. They didn’t have to DO anything to become that. Circumcision then was a seal of the covenant, much like wearing a wedding ring is today when you get married. The law of Moses was God’s prescribed way of life that His holy people were to live in the world to show the world (and themselves) that they were God’s covenant people. Israel was the vehicle through which God revealed His mercy to the world. Paul understood all this. He also understood, I believe, that Jesus the Messiah fulfilled Israel’s calling in the world and became Israel’s Representative, thus perfectly fulfilling the “works of the law” and everything they stood for in Himself.

    I would also agree that Paul, in Romans 1-3, clearly leveled the playing field between Jews and Gentiles, and made the issue solely about the Messiah and not the works of the law. If those things had their fulfillment in the Messiah as Paul so thoroughly understood, why would anyone continue in them? Sure, you can’t get “uncircumcised.” I don’t think Paul would even see a need to anyway. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, he says. And there are other laws such as keeping the Sabbath that were meant to serve man anyway (and when he was with Jews, I’m sure he kept the Sabbath on Saturdays so as not to be a stumbling block).

    I guess my question in light of all this is, when we speak of “Judaism,” are we talking about the same thing Paul would have seen it as (if in fact he even thought of it in terms of a “religion” as we do and since he nor anyone else in the Bible used that term to my knowledge)? In other words, when we speak of Judaism, are we talking about being identified with national Israel as God’s chosen people with the Messiah not having anything to do with it (that was the way Jews saw it before Jesus) and the keeping of the works of the law (including not eating with Gentiles) as God’s prescription for living in covenant with Him? If we’re talking about that, I do not think Paul saw that as necessary anymore as I would say Romans 9-11 would prove.

  • And that’s not to say he wouldn’t continue to practice some things as cultural tradition. But I would say that he definitely saw the keeping of them in a different light.

  • DRT

    I am starting to think (and this idea may not be new to you, but is to me), that the vast majority of the gentiles that Paul preached to were in fact synagogue attending non-jews that worshiped right along with the jews. Many times in acts we see Paul going to the synagogue and there converted both jews and gentiles. Is this, perhaps, Paul’s primary avenue for getting converts?

    This makes lots of sense to me since the seperation between Jews and Gentiles was not the oft thought difference between pagans and jews, but between different classes of people in the Jewish worship context. The gentiles did not do the full conversion to Judaim, but followed the religion nonetheless.

    So whe we come to asking, and Paul declaring, whether gentiles can be part of the messianic community whether the gentiles can be full fledged members the answer is yes, but no longer by being part of the Jewish part of the synagogue community.

    Quite naturally then, Paul maintiained a significant and ongoing relationship with the synagogue and temple. He is teaching the people to follow the Messiah, in addition to Yahweh.

    I would love to hear from Scot and others on this dynamic.

  • Bill

    Paul as far as I can tell, never adovcated wiping out Jewish practice including circumcision (sign of the covenant). Jesus never called for the eradication of Jewish practice. Fulfilling the law does not mean wiping it out. Why would Jesus wipe out everything He had written and everything he was. He was and is the Word of God. When did law cease being the word of God? It seems very contradictory to even speak in terms of fulfilling being equal to wiping out especially when speaking of the Word.

    Paul had significant issues with certain Jewish believers trying to get Gentiles to convert to Judaism to be followers of Jesus. He objected to the practice and he took his case to Jerusalem eventually. Peter also had to come to grips with the same thing. God opened the door to Gentiles and they could remain as such and be called a followers of Jesus. It’s too bad over the centuries that the tables turned on Jews who are followers of Jesus, to dump their Jewishness. Paul never required the Jews to dump their identity and he never required Gentiles to take up Judaism as a prerequisite to following Jesus. The Gospel opened the door to Jew and Gentile alike. The way of salvation is the same for both, through Jesus. Their distinctives were to remain intact.

  • scotmcknight

    Bill, how do you understand Mark 7’s “he declared all foods clean” and Peter’s summons to eat foods he’d not eaten in Acts 10-11?

  • Matt Edwards

    I have never read anything by Nanos, but by your summary I think he makes some good points. I think he’s right with regard to how Paul changed (converted or was called) on the road to Damascus. Whatever you make of Romans and Galatians (and especially the phrase “works of the law” in Galatians), I think the Damascus road experience has to color it.

    I think Nanos exposes a weakness in Dunn’s views. It’s always bothered me that Dunn sees Paul’s problem with Judaism as ethnocentrism/boundary-making. Paul seems pretty eager to draw boundaries about who is in and who is out, only he does so with regard to the “faith of/in Jesus” rather than by “works of the law.” Also, I don’t see how an epiphany about Jewish ethnocentrism fits into his conversion on the road to Damascus.

    Nanos’ view, that Paul converted to Jesus and then reinterpreted Judaism in light of that, makes more sense. However, I don’t know that Nanos goes far enough. I don’t think Paul saw his Judaism as one sect among other equal sects. What do we do with the harsh language about “works of the law” in Galatians? What do we do with Acts 28:25–29? What do we do with Romans 11:25 and the “hardening” that he thinks came upon Israel? These don’t seem like the words of someone who saw multiple ways of expressing Judaism. I think Paul saw something wrong with his Jewish contemporaries’ way of life, and that something was probably their rejection of Jesus as Messiah. He phrased this rejection as an errant commitment to “works of the law”.

  • Great discussion. Thanks, Bill, for your explanation.

  • Very informative, Scott, and helpful to me as I intend to pursue further studies on the question of identity in Paul. Nanos, like so many today, draws from E. P. Sanders’ critique of the Reformation view of Judaism. Personally, I haven’t read Nanos but have read Schwartz and Boyarin and it seems to be a development of them. Obvioulsy Paul wasn’t converting to Christianity since it wasn’t a religion yet, but that doesn’t mean he remained religiously Jewish. Gautama didn’t remain a Hindu either. We find Paul in a unique situation at the beginning of a new world religion emerging out of Jewish roots. And to place a hard dichotomy there and choose one side over the other does a disservice to Paul. There’s still a lot to be discovered in terms of identity and ethnicity within a Pauline framework, but we can start from a “point of departure” which affirms certain aspects of the old and also contains something radically new. What these are remains to be sorted out.

  • It appears that Paul stressed that all people could come into relationship with Israel’s God through Jesus the Christ. Jews could, Gentiles could. Jews who had a long, rich, turbulent history with their God observed a thoroughly Jewish way of life. Surrendering to Jesus as Yhwh/LORD did not mean Jews ceased being Jews, nor did it mean Gentiles, who came to faith in Israel’s God revealed in the Christ, had to live like Jews. Jews could, however, if they so chose to do so, drop or exchange their ways of life and adopt Gentile ways. As Bill as observed, there is no merit whatsoever with God about the religious observances. Issues of religious practice, whether Jewish or Gentile, became highly negotiable in the Christian way as Paul labors to stress in Romans 14. What is hard for us who are Gentile converts to the Christ and who have been conditioned to compartmentalize our Christian faith separately from our way of life is that compartmentalization of faith apart from a way of life was inconceivable to most Jews in Jesus’ day. The new way of life is epitomized in the Jesus Creed–love God, love your neighbor. I tend to think Paul practiced situational religious ethics as he proclaimed Christ and the kingdom of God.

  • Hadyn

    Scot, I’m not sure about Mark 7 as I haven’t really looked at it recently, but Acts 10-11 doesn’t have anything to do with food laws as I see it. This is to do with the Jews’ view that Gentiles were unclean, and so couldn’t be a part of God’s people. Twice the passage in Acts 10 tells us that Peter was trying to work out what the vision meant, which shows us that it was not the obvious (that he could eat what he wanted now). It was made clear to him when he saw that the Spirit had come upon Cornelius et al. God was proving a point to Peter that all people are qualified to be a part of his community, he was not “releasing Jews from the Law.” This fits with the greater narrative where Peter now accepts Cornelius (and other Gentiles) as not being unclean, and accepts them as a part of the people of God.

    With regard to the comments on Galatians, in this letter (and others) Paul is addressing the issue of how you become a part of the people of God (“how you get saved…”), he is not addressing what you do when you are saved. Two different things. The Dead Sea Scrolls have recently made it clear that “works of the law” refers to obedience to the laws of circumcision, the Sabbath, and the food laws; for the purpose of entering the community. Paul is saying that there is nothing that you can do, there is no law, that will bring you into the community of God. However, this does not mean that we don’t have any responsibilities once we are a part of God’s community. But this was the way it was always supposed to be with Judaism = covenantal nomism.

    I thoroughly agree with Nanos and his contemporaries, unfortunately a lot of our current interpretations are influenced by Luther’s anti-Jewish leanings, and need to be re-evaluated.

  • scotmcknight


    Mark 7 says Jesus thereby declared all foods unclean. I can’t see that as observant to food laws.

    Acts 10 does at least include unclean foods even if it is symbolic. Acts 10:13-15 — from God — kill and eat and Peter says he has never eaten anything unclean and God says what God says to eat can be eaten.

    Nanos doesn’t read Galatians as you do; it’s about how to live as a non-Jewish believer in Jesus not about how to become a Christian. Justified is about living faithfully before God. I think I’m reading Nanos aright here.

    I’m not so sure the DSS make anything that clear; it’s more complex. Works of the law can be read as boundary-markers, as Dunn reads it, but others aren’t so sure that’s what it means.

    Am I reading you right?

  • Matthew D

    I love reading this blog.

    Lately, I’ve been exploring the topic of whether “works of the Law” is an objective or subjective genitive. That is, is it “works that I do to keep the Law” or “works which the Law does”? It seems like Nanos is taking the typical view (assuming the quote you added comprises his view). For example, how would a subjective genitive reading of Gal. 2:16 impact us or our understanding of Paul (cf. Ps 143; Rom. 3)? How would it impact readings of Gal. 3:2, 5, 10, (11?)? Or Rom. 2:14-15; 29 (cf. 2 Cor 3); 3:20, 28; 8:3? These are just a few examples. I would like to compile some sort of reference list of places where the Scriptures speak of the Law *doing* something (e.g., kill, speak, prophesy), because I can’t help but wonder whether Paul sees the Law as a weak-but-active agent (e.g., “the Law cannot save”). Indeed, this would surely not be a small difference, huh?

    This naturally leads to my more basic point/question: how would Mark Nanos read Romans 7.

    Personally, I find the (typically Reformed) opinions of the “I” in Romans 7 as a “Christian Paul” to be awfully inadequate to the evidence and the context, and they end up making the Spirit out to be the weak-but-active agent. Again, Rom. 8:3 is very important to the discussion. This isn’t some sort of “introspective conscience” passage, despite the tension between our longings for justification and the realities of this present age. Paul points to Christ and reminds those with the Spirit to never allow the tension to become a contradiction. Here, as Jean-Luc Marion says, “the cross disqualifies the idolatrous illusion of the Christ” (The Idol and Distance, 65). Our relation to God is no longer mediated by a burden we were unable to bear. Where once we could both delight in the works of the Law and be unable to bear it, now we see the cross. The idol is expressed, therefore, in a Nietzschean gaze, as God’s love is not for possession (and thus a veiled will to power and avenue for retaliation when unrequited). The concept of possession works both ways. It is also not so difficult to see the “I”, then, as an existential construction. For the self that is aware will lead itself, ultimately, to narcissism or nihilism. Either road is disillusionment built from suspicion of “the other” or “the self” and leads only to solipsism. Either road is idolatry, predicated on the fearing the wrong thing. Instead, to draw from Marion again, Christ overcomes our powerless frustration and resentment; we are free from an idolatrous relationship to the divine (64f). In this way, Christ is our mediator without disillusionment in a way the Law could not be. Nevertheless, to take the Romans Road is not the most helpful way through Romans 7.

    I don’t think I have the matter settled, but my take on Romans 7 has dramatically affected my walk in the Way for the better. I’m much more likely to “hot potato” (throw) my prideful anxiety to God, rather than try and keep it in my own hands as before (since “well, that’s just how it is” and since “Paul knows what you’re going through”). Now that I’m wrestling with “why” and “when” to take ἔργων νόμου as subjective genitive, I’m wondering how that affects my view of Paul, what the theological ramifications are, etc.

    I don’t know that this affects the discussion, since even if every instance is an objective genitive, the matter of “ethnicity” (i.e., ἔθνος) is what is fundamental to the Jewish identity. That ethnicity is often tied on one hand to the works of the Law, it remains centered around the idea of relational identity. John Barclay’s work on this topic in “Jews in the Mediterranean in the Diaspora” is particularly helpful to me. In chapter fourteen, Barclay argues that although every site requires individual attention, the concept of ethnicity is a “combination of kinship and custom” (402). Therefore, it matters what a Jew thinks about himself, what other Jews think about that Jew, and what outsiders think. This, he argues, will lead us to understand the Jewish identity (400f). So, the wider question that we find here ultimately narrowed around Paul is related to how the Jewish communities came to treat this Jesus of Nazareth. It’s perhaps why we think “how Jewish is your Paul” might be connected to our view of Judaism. Our history shows we have not always answered that question well.

    I’ll stop rambling now. 🙂

  • “All foods clean” = that the animals that G_d declared to be clean (ie. food) couldn’t be made unclean by man’s law…therefore man’s law is not greater than G_d’s law. That is why Jesus points out the giving of money to the Temple (man’s law) does not get one out of taking care of one’s parents (Honor your father and mother) in their old age (G_d’s Law).

    This has nothing to do with bacon! 🙂

  • Oh and Peter never did eat the things lowered. There was a concept that ‘clean’ animals that came in contact with ‘unclean’ animals would become “common” and therefore ‘unclean’ and unedible to the Jews. The point of the vision (IMHO) is that the Jewish believer’s cleanliness before G_d had nothing to do with coming into ‘contact’ with the Gentiles.

  • sorry for so many posts – if you read the passage in Acts you’ll notice it say “common or unclean” – common is the point! Because the clean animals (Those declared to be that way by G_d) would be ‘tainted’ by the unclean (Those declared to be that way by G_d)…this was a man-made law – G_d is demonstrating that this way of thinking is not His.

  • Hadyn

    Hi Scot.
    I think Acts 10 comes down to whether God actually expected Peter to eat what was revealed to him. To me it seems as though God did not ultimately expect Peter to eat what was shown to him because it included reptiles (do people eat reptiles? not a lot anyway). It just seems to me that God is really trying to emphasize his point. If God had explicitly shown Peter pigs and shellfish etc, i.e. the things that it would actually be conceivable that someone _would_ eat, then it would make more sense to me that this was actually talking about food as well as people, rather than it just being symbolic.

    The comment I made on Galatians was more directed at the previous comments rather than Nanos’ reading of Galatians. Looking back at my last post I should have been a bit clearer I think; yes Galatians is about living as a non-Jew in the community, but when he talks about “works of the law” _in_ Galatians it is about the boundary markers, and not the faithful life. What we find in the DSS is that “works of the law” was a common phrase used to describe the three boundary markers of Sabbath, Kosher, and Circumcision (I accept that this is not agreed on by everyone). It was the case for the Qumran sect, and if this is true it seems too much of a coincidence to not suggest that this phrase was used in wider Jewish circles, given that the exact same phrase is found in Paul’s letters.
    I also think that we often read back into the scriptures what the reformers wanted “works of the law” to say (i.e. earning salvation), which we should be weary of, especially considering Judaism very rarely (if ever) has considered obedience to Torah as earning salvation.

    As to Mark 7, yes it seems quite clear here that Jesus seems to be abolishing the food laws. I don’t want to make a firm statement about this without looking into it further, but the end of verse 19 really seems like a later addition to the text. And although it _can_ fit in this passage, it does contradict what Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 (although that depends on one’s interpretation of “fulfilling”). Without this (if it was a later addition) the passage could still make sense, it just wouldn’t say that kosher laws no longer mattered.
    Those are just some musings on Mark 7, don’t take it as my official opinion… 🙂

  • Scot,
    I am very grateful for your review of my chapter and the book overall. After you refer to me as playing golf well–well, there is little reason for anyone to trust the rest of what say! 🙂 But just in case, I would like to offer a few comments on your review and a few of the comments made by you and others thereafter. As you might expect of me, these few comments turn into more than a brief read–I hope that is not inappropriate for the forum or a test of patience. I do hope it will clarify and support interest in reading the book.

    Let me start with a complaint; sorry. I had to look up the quote on p. 163; I could not imagine that I wrote what you quoted, even if there were ellipses. And I did not! I was explaining how Jews traditionally respond to what Christians claim via Paul–not my view, and it was also qualified to measure such ideas as faith if separated from faithfulness in the way that Judaism was presented. What I wrote was: “Jews assess these value judgments [negative Christian portrayals of Judaism] from a point of view that undermines them, both by challenging them to be mistaken and rejoining that those values that Christians champion in supposed contrast to Judaism via Paul are instead inferior to the values Jews actually uphold. For example, the idea that faith is to be contrasted with deeds (i.e., the proposition of faith alone) involves a binary approach to these values that misrepresents what Judaism teaches in order to create a foil; moreover, for Judaism, faith that is separated from faithfulness is undesirable as a value anyway.” I think Paul would agree with that.

    I quite agree with L. T. Johnson about the diversity of Judaism, and I was surprised he seized on this as a criticism since he acknowledged that I acknowledged this but did not spend time developing the implications. He is right; that was simply a consequence of space constraints wherein I had plenty to try to accomplish just to talk about Paul in terms of Judaism in general. I think many (Johnson?) avoid the basic issue which I wanted to highlight (including by appeal to diversity, ironically): however one defines Torah-observance, I think Paul would have qualified at the high end of the spectrum, not as usually qualified in terms of some low-level or continued habit in certain things, or when judged expedient in some situations to work among Jews to convince them to become Christians (as usually presented). I felt that in this venue, for evangelical readers as the target of a Zondervan book, it was best to keep the word count allowed pretty directly focused on Paul’s practice of Judaism in “normative” terms. That would be “new” enough, and plenty to digest. I am working on a book that will have space to do a bit more with the complexity issue within Judaism(s).

    Schreiner’s response was disappointing but anticipated. I have written plenty about Gal 2 and Rom 14 showing how they do not suggest that Paul was not Torah observant but the contrary, and repeating the traditional view as if I was unaware of it is not very helpful (how could I not be aware, it makes up most of the stuff in the books that fill my library!). I could not articulate discussions of these passages and many others at length in this venue. The dialogical problem is that there are always texts that can be presented as contrary evidence, and that is fine as long is it is not ducking a discussion of the evidence under discussion on its own terms first. I try to deal with some of these and respect that there are always others until one can write a massive, exhaustive tome, but I have dealt now (in monographs and many essays: http://www.marknanos.com to find out more) with a good deal of the most significant and often appealed to texts and shown how they can be read by audiences who understood Paul to be a strictly Torah-observant Jew writing to them in the ways that he did. I have offered arguments about specific texts (more impressionistic in this venue, admittedly); doesn’t that alone warrant arguments (even if at the impressionistic level) about those same texts in response?

    I am surprised by your comments in the discussions when you raise Acts 10 (or the saying in Mark, but I did not deal with Jesus so will leave that aside here except to note, of course, that there are also contrary indicators to your point in the Gospels, and more of them, I believe). It is another topic and I don’t want to get into it in this post, but the writer of Acts 15 and 21 and elsewhere does not seem to gather from what was written in Acts 10 that Peter or the other Jews who believed Jesus was Christ had abandoned Torah observance, but rather seems to believe that they were zealous to observe it, and in the Temple, and that includes Paul making a burnt offering, and remaining a Pharisee–but that the way that they were now willing to receive non-Jews in Christ as fellow members of the people of God had indeed changed. Doesn’t that warrant a challenge to the traditional idea that Peter (or Paul, etc.) abandoned Jewish Torah-derived dietary customs? It is not hard to read Acts 10 in keeping with the notion that it was the way he thought about non-Jewish people who wanted to join these Jewish groups in Christ that was the point made by way of an allegorical dream.

    As for Gal 3 and the pedagogue who protected the children, which one of the respondents raised, I see the issue there analogous to a school crossing-guard for children. Who are the Jewish children being protected from? The non-Jews! But with the arrival of the age to come (at least some) of the non-Jews no longer represent the traditional threat. The children still need protection (they still cross streets), which God’s Instructions (Torah) provide them, but not from some Christ-following non-Jews in quite the same ways, at least they should not (see Rom 11). The topic is larger and more complicated, but this will perhaps suggest that if one wants to explore a reading of Paul still practicing Judaism and Torah explicitly and known to be such by his audiences, these texts do not stand in the way in quite the manner otherwise presupposed from the traditional perspectives on the topic. But that takes a willingness to revisit every text, every context, etc., with a new hypothesis to explore, rather than to shut it down as if it cannot be from a simple surface reading of the text as translated by those who worked from very different hypotheses–even if they have hundreds (or thousands) of years of tradition on their side.

    Scot, you have read me well (but not completely in the terms I want to maintain) when you write: “You could convert to Judaism but did not have to [I would say: “but could not” according to Paul!] become a Jew by undergoing circumcision. Paul opposes proselyte circumcision for Gentile “converts” to Judaism, because circumcision entails Torah observance, and Gentiles don’t have to obey the whole Torah.” I would write this differently, and it is important to note that it is not because circumcision is Torah-observance but because it would transform/convert non-Jews or non-Israelites into Jews/Israelites, and that is what Paul believes is “no longer” appropriate with the coming of Messiah (which you rightly noted in an earlier comment). Paul opposes Torah-observance as a matter of covenant obligation for Gentile “converts” to Judaism because Torah observance applies to Israelites only, and since these Gentiles are not circumcised–and cannot be as a matter of principle based on the gospel claim that the time for the nations to turn to God has arrived–they remain members of the other nations and not under obligation to the whole Torah (yet under obligation to righteousness for humans, which does not look very different when practiced in these Jewish contexts, and that is another complication I will leave aside here!). Complicated, although simple in a way–yet different enough that it continues to make for cumbersome sentences and misunderstanding; I am sorry I do not seem to be able to make my views clear or simple to repeat.

    “Nanos, then, has a narrowed meaning for “works of the law”: it’s about circumcision. Works of the law ultimately leads to changed ethnicity or to ethnic Jewishness.” Here you are exactly right! In my view “ergon nomou” is a way of referring to “circumcision” which is a way of referring to “proselyte conversion,” which involves the completion of certain “rites [ergon]” according to the prevailing conventions [nomou] when non-Jews want to be members of the righteous ones, of Abraham’s family. Paul believes that the time has come when they must do so as members of the nations other than Israel–so they cannot become Israelites-proselytes-circumcised (at the completion of that rite). The phrase could be used differently in a Qumran letter, of course, where it is describing differences between those who are already all Jews, but the issue is how did Paul use the phrase. He used it in contrast to responding, as Gentiles, to the message of Christ apart from becoming Jews–and that is well within the semantic range of the phrase, although Pauline scholars seem not to recognize this simple way to read Paul’s phrase. But isn’t that because they “know” he means something else, something about opposing Torah-observance beyond circumcision for non-Jews (and Jews, too)?

    I take your point on how one can use the term “conversion”–but. I have read a number of these studies and concede that Paul had a transformative experience–that seems to me beyond dispute. Yet I resist this language just as I resist using Christian to describe Paul even if qualified–because once one knows it in the traditional way this language gets in the way of new thinking, no matter how hard one tries to avoid it (I can offer countless examples from contemporary Pauline scholars who revert to Paul the Christian and Christian converts and Christian churches immediately after saying there was no such thing–and it is clear in what they write that they have not really managed to escape more than mere language in the way they analyze Paul and his audiences). So calling may not be best, and as you know I did not invent this option, but it is better by miles, in my view, than conversion. I also like the model offered by Zeba Crook, emphasizing the affiliation with one philosophical school over another, and being loyal to declare the superiority of that philosopher over others….

    You have expressed my concern to put Paul’s position in terms of eschatology and hermeneutics right, which I tried to coin the phrase chronometric to encompass. I think that is much more important to interpreting Paul’s language in context than has been appreciated, even though often stated. It makes it easy to talk about Paul within Judaism–but with a different view about what is appropriate within Judaism “now.”

    You finish with some questions. Questions, as you know, are so important, not least because in the way that they are phrased they contain a host of already set answers, ways of framing the issues, etc. I would say the questions (for Paul) are different than you express them to be (for Christians today). You write: “Did the apostle Paul think all Jews had to believe Jesus was the Messiah to be saved, or to enter the kingdom of God, or the Age to Come? Did he think non-messianic Jews were just as saved as messianic Jews? Was historic Judaism sufficient or did one have to embrace messianic Judaism?”

    I don’t think Paul thought in terms of “to be saved” or “enter the kingdom of God,” etc., for his fellow Jews, if by this one means what it usually means when expressed in traditional Christian soteriological terms. And I don’t think it was at all a question about “Judaism,” about the Jewish way of life, and I think that is a basic problem starting from Sanders through Dunn and Wright, et al, within the New Perspective (however much better than the old one). He saw messianic Judaism as historic Judaism, and he believed that in due time so too would the rest of his fellow Jews. There was nothing wrong in Judaism; there was something wrong in the world for which Judaism offered the answer by way of the long-awaited fulfillment of the promises for Israel and all of humankind, even the cosmos itself–which began to be realized in Judaism’s Messiah as the Savior of the nations too. He found fault with those Jews/Israelites whom he believed hindered this cause for Judaism; and yet he recognized that this was not entirely their fault–yet. (By Judaism I mean the Jewish communal way of life, which involves God, Scripture, Torah, Temple, etc.)

    I think that Paul saw all Israelites/Jews who sought to remain in good standing as Israelites/Jews by the ways that God “Instructed” (“Torah” literally) them to do so as already within the covenant people of God, as children of Abraham, etc.–that was a result of God’s grace extended to them since the fathers in covenant relationships. But since he believed that the Messiah/king of Israel had come in Jesus and thus that the awaited Age to Come had arrived (although only begun, in part) when the rest of the nations would turn to the one creator God also alongside of Israelites/Jews, as promised in Judaism’s Scriptures, he believed that his fellow Israelites/Jews should get with the program (so to speak). They should be persuaded of this “truth” and declare it to the nations. Failure to do so was disloyal, unfaithful, and had consequences, but did not constitute being out of the people of God, being no longer children of Abraham, being like non-Jews (not in Christ) by definition. Rather, it was more like being in a temporary disciplinary state within the family (the analogy to a child being disciplined, but not kicked out–that would take a lot more than lack of being persuaded of a debatable truth claim upheld by some siblings; no?). He struggled also even with that judgment, since he saw that God was involved in a larger, strategic agenda that apparently involved, by God’s design, some Israelites/Jews for a while suffering this discipline for being unpersuaded. So, in my view, Paul did not draw a judgment of his fellow Jews in quite the terms embedded in your questions. He thought that if he, and the Gentiles he was teaching, did their part, that his fellow Israelites/Jews would join him/them in their convictions about Jesus and the arrival, at least in part, of the awaited age. That things did not turn out as Paul supposed (yet?) is another matter, and important to allow space for when trying to read him in context; no?

    Thank you again for the effort to make this book, and my chapter therein, a matter of discussion! I am really honored, please, excited, to have this interaction. I hope I have not offended you or your readers in this extended reply.

  • Bill

    Scot (#17),

    I didn’t see your response until this morning. “Jesus declared all foods clean”. This is bad translation and Jesus wasn’t commenting on kashrut in the context of this section of Mark 7. My answer would be long and would involve some clarification of pure and impure. I don’t have enoguh time to elaborate. But just looking at the context of that Mark 7 pasage, Jesus is using the Law to show what is really meant regarding ritual cleansing, not kashrut.

    In Peter’s case, after walking with Jesus, after the crucifixion, after the resurrection, etc. he says he never (never also means never before these events) ate non-kosher food. This must mean Jesus had no issue with kashrut and that Jews should keep kosher. Again the context isn’t about food and I think Peter knew but didn’t understand the vision until he got to Cornelius’ place and thereafter when he retells his story in Jerusalem. The vision of unclean (non-kosher animals) was symbolic. Animals are used by God many times in the prophets to symbolize the nations, the goyim if you will. This is what Peter didn’t get initally. God was declaring the Gentiles as being entitled to the gospel too. The Gentiles were to be considered “clean” in the sense of being approachable and entitled to same blessing as the Jews in regards to the gospel. This is how he later understands the vision after seeing the Holy Spirit given at Cornelius’ household and later in Acts where the Jerusalem Council concurs on that understanding.

    I am no bible scholar but what I do know is neither issue had to do with food and kashrut but right application of the Law in ritual cleansing and how the Gentiles were included in God’s plan for tikkun olam (repair of the world).

    I hope I gave you a coherent answer.

  • Thanks Mark! I really enjoyed reading your responses.

  • Wow – Thank you, Mark Nanos, for your thorough discussion in comment #30.

    Scot, can you post a link below your article that points people toward Nanos’ discussion later on? It greatly enhances the worth of the whole page to know that Nanos responds to people’s questions. I suspect it will easily get overlooked in the long list of comments from others.

  • Woops, I guess Mark Nanos’ comment was #29.

  • Mark and Scot,

    I really enjoyed this discussion. I’m no theologian (as Scot knows well…lol), but I find myself thinking that in some ways the debate seems to be circling in the clouds needing to land (so to speak) and get about the business of living. I say this in part in the sense I get that for some commenters, their question almost seems to be (mostly no fault to either of you, actually) whether observant Jews or Protestant Christians get to “claim” Paul.

    Am I correct in sensing that both of you would agree, in the final analysis, that the disipleship questions come down (at least in part) to:

    1) Now that Jesus is the anointed king (real meaning of Messiah), we should want all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, to acknowledge his kingship. This, Paul also wanted.

    2) Gentiles who acknowledge Jesus don’t need to become Jews to be part of Jesus’ kingdom (this Paul clearly acknowledged), but in the same way, Jews who acknowledge Jesus don’t need to become “un-Jews” either.

    3) Notwithstanding (2), if Jews determine that in Christ their freedom allows them to depart from Jewish observance, yet they remain submissive to Jesus’ kingship, that is “acceptable” in God’s (and Paul’s) sight…(this one Mark may push back on, but I would appeal to 1 Cor. 8 and 1 Cor. 10:23-31). No one should be trying to win people in either direction so long as lordship of Jesus is not in question, but on the other hand, people who follow one or more of these laws in honest devotion to God, should not be criticized for doing so.

    4) In the final analysis, the question is whether Jesus is King. When people ask what that means for “salvation” (usually meant as whether one is going to heaven or hell) is beside the point … that was really not Paul’s focus.

    Am I reading/hearing you guys rightly?

  • Oh, and @Hayden #28, people do eat reptiles all over the world, just not in the west. Iguanas are a delicacy in much of Central America, to name one example…. ;{)

  • Michael C. Sisson

    Just my two cents on the notion that Christ abrogated kashrut…

    The oft repeated phrase “…unclean to you,” in Leviticus 11 indicates the chapter is primarily about God’s sanctification of the Jews through diet, not the inherent uncleanness of some creatures. No creature was created inherently unclean. Only God’s declaration in Leviticus 11 made some foods unclean to the Jew. Consequently, Jesus does not abrogate Torah in Mark 7:19. On the contrary, He upholds Torah while correcting His audience’s understanding of it. Torah, itself, remains unchanged just as Christ said in would in Mt 5:17-19. Furthermore, the words of Paul in Rom. 14:14, and Peter in Acts 10:28, make it clear that foods were not created inherently clean or unclean anymore than men were. All foods and men are sanctified through the Word of God alone. Just as God declared some animals unclean to His people in Leviticus, with sublime symetry He declared some gentiles clean to His people in Acts. Uncleanness and defilement then comes not through eating any inherently unclean thing, but rather it is the product of our opposition to, and disregard for, the Word of God and our fellow man.

  • Hadyn

    Thanks @Dan #35, I wasn’t too sure on that one! I know they also eat crocodiles in Australia. I think my point still stands though.

  • Tim Atwater

    Thanks very much, however belatedly, for this posting, Scot and Mark Nanos, especially, for the good clarifying comments.
    I am appreciating the Jewish New Testament Study Bible (with several particularly good pieces by Mark.
    Grace and peace,