Apostle of Persuasion– Part Eleven

Apostle of Persuasion– Part Eleven March 7, 2022

Q. I was glad to see you weigh in on the Jewishness of Paul’s thought world. In the old pendulum swing from Bultmann at one end of the spectrum and now Nanos, Fredricksen and others at the extreme other end of the spectrum I appreciate your attempt to delineate the ways Paul was both in accord with his Pharisaic faith tradition, and at odds with it in other respects. I myself have not been persuaded by our friend Tom Wright’s arguments about the term ‘Israel’ referring to Jew and Gentile united in Christ in some places in the undisputed letters of Paul.  This seems clearly not to be the case in Rom. 9-11 where Paul even argues that Jews who have rejected Christ have been temporarily broken off from the people of God but will be reintegrated into them when Christ returns and ‘turns away the impiety of Jacob’.   I was very glad to see your strong affirmation that a judgment on works of the faithful as well as the infidels is still part of Paul’s faith perspective.  I think Barclay is quite right that Paul’s theology of grace was not a ‘grace with no thought of required return’ response in regard to deeds. I also do not think the arguments of Nanos and company work to maintain that Paul was operating within the parameters of the synagogue and that his community met there, and that he did not distinguish himself in any major way from ‘common Judaism’.  As we say in N.C.— that dog just won’t hunt!  It is a very odd thing for a Jew like Paul to say ‘I become the Jew to the Jew’ which he distinguishes from being ‘in Christ’.  Could you say some more about your views of the continuity and discontinuity of Paul and early Judaism?


A. Paul seems to speak of his being “in Judaism” as a thing of the past and still consider himself a Jew in the present (Rom. 9:1-5). As Galatians indicates, he envisions a gentile community that is not a “third race,” but one that has been incorporated into the seed of Abraham. He makes the same point in Romans 11: The church has been grafted on to Israel. As his anguish in Rom. 9:1-5 indicates, he is in anguish because Israel has stumbled. Or, as he says in 2 Cor. 3:15-16, those who have not accepted Christ are blinded. I suspect that much of the Paul within Judaism perspective grows out of post-holocaust guilt. He undoubtedly preached to Jews and Gentiles. I agree that in Romans 11:26, Paul Is saying that the Jews over whom he weeps (9:1-5) will ultimately be saved (11:26). But if one tracks the argument of 9-11, the conditions for salvation are faith in Christ (ch. 10). He does not say how or when they will be saved. Rom. 11:26 is one of those places where I think rhetoric plays a big role. I am more interested in what Paul is doing rhetorically (telling Gentiles not to be arrogant) than to nail him down on how or when they will be saved.

As I have argued, Paul has maintained the mental framework of his Pharisaic past. The discontinuity comes when he superimposes the Christ event onto his Pharisaic beliefs. The Damascus Road experience taught him that Christ revealed himself outside of the Torah. While Paul speaks of himself as a Jew (cf. Rom. 9:1-5), the punishments (forty lashes less one) in the synagogue indicate that the Jewish community saw great discontinuity. His acceptance of Gentiles without circumcision was also a departure from the normal means of accepting proselytes and the expectations of requirements for Gentiles stated in Isaiah 56.


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