Q. Let’s talk about Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles. I certainly agree that that is the focus of Paul’s calling and ministry, but that’s not the only people he ever recruited for Christ. Not only in Acts, but also in 2 Cor. 11.24 it is clear enough he shared the Gospel in synagogues and paid the price for doing so. The fact that Paul says he received the 39 lashes five times means he kept going back to the synagogues to share Christ, and not just with the God-fearers. Why? Because though his focus was on sharing Christ with the Gentiles he knew, as he says in Rom. 1 that the Good News about Jesus Christ as the messiah and savior is for the Jew first, and also for others. Why for both? Because at no point in human history does he envision there being two peoples of God. Jews clearly have priority as the chosen people of God, but God also wants to bring the ‘nations’ into the people of God as well. What do you see as askew in this line of reasoning?
A. I am glad we agree that being apostle to the gentiles is the main focus of Paul’s ministry as this is most important. This is because it was agreed at the council of Jerusalem that two leaders would share the outreach of the good news. Peter would be in charge of proclaiming to his own people , the Jews, the good news that messianic times had begun, and Paul would lead the mission to the nations. This agreement, similar to many ‘divisions of labour’ in historic missions abroad, was done to facilitate the different groups who were part of this proclamation i.e. Jews and non-Jews. As noted, when Paul introduces himself in Rom 1.5 he clearly refers to his calling to proclaim the good news to the non-Jews/nations. He identifies himself precisely as apostle to the nations. This does not mean that the gospel is only for the nations. But his task is to set out what this means for non-Jews in Romans. What he sets out here is specifically for those addressed in this letter.
A preliminary point needs clarification- Paul does not talk of peoples of God. I agree- for him there is only one people of God, that is, the people Israel. But the scriptures Paul used spoke continually of “Israel and the nations”, and Paul seldom, if ever, speaks of Israel alone without simultaneous reference also to the nations, because God is God of the entire world. For Paul the “gentiles in Christ” are an associate people, attached to the people of Israel as a satellite people rather than as a separate group who might want to see themselves as “another people of God”. When this unfortunately happens, it usually only does so by the new group imagining that they have superseded the previous ‘people of God’, an unlikely scenario if God is trustworthy. It could be argued that if it is claimed that gentiles in Christ are an associate people alongside Israel then this virtually amounts to talking about two peoples. But gentiles in Christ are not viewed by Paul as a separate people. For him if they were separated from Israel entirely they would be like broken branches that could not for long survive by themselves. The identity of gentiles in Christ depends on Christ being part of the people Israel and he cannot be separated from Israel as part of a separate gentile-only people. Whether or not this was an issue in Rome, Paul’s argumentation in the letter is designed specifically to prevent such.
Part of the problem is the terminology we use. You say “but God also wants to bring the ‘nations’ into the people of God as well. I would prefer to say “into the kingdom of God”, because this does not assume that when gentiles enter the kingdom, they become Jews i.e. Israel.