Paul was Jewish but NOT a “Christian”

An excellent discussion on Jesus Creed:

“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…

…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…” (Read full article here)

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  • Scot’s review of Nanos’ book was good, and the comments raised the usual issues. But the whole page became much more interesting to me once I saw that Nanos himself wrote very thorough response people’s questions in comment #29. He also does good job of explaining his views in a nutshell there. So, read Scot’s article, but don’t forget to scroll down to comment #29 in the discussion.

  • While you’re reading comments, please be sure and read #12 by “Bill,” who represents himself as a Jewish follower of Jesus. His words are worth the read all by themselves!