Paul Then and Now– Part Eleven

Paul Then and Now– Part Eleven January 23, 2023

Q. Let’s have a good chat about the recent tour de force attempts by Nanos, Fredricksen and others to insist Paul fits within the confines of early Judaism. As you say there are as many different takes on that as there are advocates of that view. It kind of reminds me of the diversity in the new Perspectives on Paul group. I will be frank and say that I think my view of those sorts of attempts are excellent challenges to traditional Christian views of Paul, but they fail to deal with the radicality of Paul, though in a different way than traditional Protestant readings of Paul do.  In the first place, Israel, particularly in Rom. 9-11 means for Paul non-Christian Jews.  Israel is not likely a term he ever used to refer to those we call Christ followers, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.  In fact, what he calls this new entity composed of both Jews and Gentiles is ‘the ekklesia tou Theou’, which is interesting since ekklesia was the term used in ancient Greece to refer to the democratic assembly in Athens, but also used of God’s people assembled in the LXX.  Paul’s vision of what is happening is something new— Jew and Gentile united in Christ.  He does not see Gentiles joining Israel, but by the same token, he also does not affirm a two-track model of salvation, one for Jews and one for anyone else.  He believes salvation comes solely through the Jewish Messiah who is also the Gentile’s savior.  And the goal is not different strokes for different folks, but one new people of God in Christ, in ekklesia.   This does not mean for Paul that God has reneged on his promises to Israel, but ultimately as Rom. 11 says quite clearly they will be fulfilled eschatologically when Christ returns as the Redeemer who comes forth from heavenly Zion and turns away the impiety of Jacob (by which he likely means Jews who have thus far rejected Christ, the one’s temporarily broken off from the people of God).  And how exactly does that work?   Houtos here as elsewhere means ‘in like manner’ or ‘in the same manner’.  In short, Jews are integrated into the body of Christ by grace through faith in Christ— the very same way Gentiles are.


A. I’m not sure what claims by Nanos, Fredriksen, et al. you have in mind in the opening line of this question. I think that they, and I, would agree with much of what you say here (though both they and I would perhaps put it in less Christianising terms). “Israel” means Israel, not the church. Ekklesia is an ancient civic term that Paul uses for the assembly of people-in-Christ in a given city. Gentiles-in-Christ join the people of God, but do not become Jews. Jesus is the messiah who appears at the end of the ages to bring the kingdom of God. God does not renege on his promises to Israel. Etc. Etc. My friends Mark and Paula would have to speak for themselves, of course, but I am pretty sure that we all agree on all these points. So maybe the PWJ school is not as far from you as you might think. As for whether any of this takes away from Paul’s “radicality,” that is a criticism I have heard before, but I do not really understand what it means. I think my hang-up is that “radical” is a rather vague descriptor, and necessarily relative (to other things judged less radical, more conventional, etc.). So to say that Paul is radical does not mean much unless or until we clarify what, exactly, we are contrasting him with. And it is of course possible to make claims about Paul without contrasting him with anyone, so for my part I am very happy to do without talk of “radicality.”


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