I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

St Paul of Tarsus: Proud Torah Jew or Former Jew turned antinomian Christian?



Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus transformed him so that he had an inner conversion to faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. This Jewish Messiah would be the light for all nations. Was this however an experience that led to his conversion to a new religion that abandoned Jewish observances or did it deepen and broaden his understandings as one who remained solidly within the framework of the Jewish religion and culture? Scholars debate on both sides of this and seem to strongly disagree with each other.[1] A part of Paul’s call was to provide a religious structure for non-Jews (Gentiles) in which they could share with the Jewish believers in Jesus without becoming fully and ethnically Jewish.[2] In the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) he proclaimed his ideas of this freedom or dispensation from full Jewish Torah observance for Gentile believers and won the acceptance of the Jerusalem Church and its leaders (Galatians 2:2).[3] In this sense we can say that Paul did begin to establish a new religion for Gentiles. However it was not a new religion without any connection to Judaism.[4] Judaism was the roots and mother of this Gentile model of the Church. Some would describe this as a bilateral ecclesial Church of Jews and Gentiles.[5]

Many scholars will use Paul’s letters in the New Testament especially Galatians and Romans to work out what is Paul’s position in regards to his new Messianic faith and Judaism.[6] It is through the literary prism or icon of Acts 21 that one should read the epistles of Paul in order to evaluate Paul’s Damascus road experience (Acts 9:1-9; 22:1-21; 26:2-18) and his subsequent mission to the Jews and Gentiles. Paul under the guidance of the leaders of the Jerusalem Church set out to demonstrate that while he allows freedom from Torah observance for the new believers from among the Gentiles, he does not advocate such for believers from among the Jews.[7] This portion of Acts speaks approvingly of Jewish believers in Jesus maintaining the circumcision of their children and of them being zealous for the Torah observances (Acts 21:20-21). Paul elsewhere also affirms this when he speaks about the circumcised remaining circumcised (I Cor 7:18). In Romans he also writes that there is much value in being circumcised (Rom 3:1-2). Galatians 5:3 demonstrates that Paul believed that the one who is circumcised is called to full Torah observance.[8] Scholars such as Longnecker, Young, Lapide, Shulam and Nanos hold that Galatians 5:3 means that Jewish believers and anyone who converts to Judaism is obligated to full Jewish Torah observance.[9] [10] [11] [12] [13] Thus Paul himself must have remained Jewishly Torah observant.

Campbell, Nanos, Eisenbaum and Tucker have supported the interpretation that Paul was a Torah observant Jew after his Damascus road experience.[14], [15], [16], [17] Nanos in his study of Romans states that Paul is a good practicing Jew although shaped by his conviction that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel.[18] Paul is also a Jewish mystic. Paul’s mysticism is rooted in the Pharisee’s desire to enhance Jewish domestic holiness by applying Temple sanctity into the life and home of the Jewish devotee.[19] Ephesians 2 is an example of this Pauline Jewish mystical context that alludes to mystical insights in regards to the Temple to explain the mystery of salvation. However due to the more mystical nature of Ephesians and Colossians some scholars have claimed that these letters were not written by Paul at all. However two important scholars Campbell and Wright both consider Ephesians to be written by Paul.[20], [21]

Paul in Romans 3 says that the Torah should be established or upheld (Rom 3:31). Ephesians states “He abolished the Jewish Law with its commandments and rules” (Eph 2:15, GNT). This however is better translated as “Making void the law of commandments contained in decrees” (Eph 2:15, DRA). These “commandments in decrees” (dogmasin in Greek) refer to the eighteen rabbinic decrees (gezerot in Hebrew) enacted by the Sanhedrin under the control of the Beit Shammai Pharisees.[22] These eighteen gezerot made a much stricter separation between Jews and Gentiles.[23] That these gezerot are the ‘commandments in decrees’ that has been nailed to the Cross and abolished makes much more sense than Paul saying that the Jewish Torah has been abolished.[24] [25]

 Paul using this Temple theology or analogy refers to these gezerot as a dividing wall (mesotoichon in Greek and Soreg and Cheil in Hebrew) (Eph 2:14).[26] The original Temple had a court for the Gentiles but later the Soreg was introduced as a more strict separation of Jews and Gentiles.[27] Paul using the language of dividing walls and outer and inner courts alludes to the mystical Temple of the Messiah’s Body in which the dividing walls are broken down and those in the outer courts (women and Gentiles) are brought near in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Body of the Messiah.[28] Thus the eighteen gezerot are abolished. This is confirmed in Peter’s vision of the sheet (Acts 10:11) and later Judaism would also abolish them.[29] [30]

The more mystical understanding of salvation in Paul (Gal 3:28) may then be understood that there are no barriers to salvation between groups or people even though they still have their distinct callings. This allows for the joining of Jews and Gentiles in the one family of Abraham.[31]. Paul confirms in Romans that God’s election of the Jews is irrevocable (Rom 11:29). Thus Paul after his Damascus Road experience is truly a Jewish prophet who is called to include the Gentiles in Israel’s inheritance without converting them to Judaism. While his place for Gentiles in the people of God has roots in the teachings of Beit Hillel, Paul provides a unique way or path for Gentiles who believe in Jesus as the Messiah. He does this while himself remaining a proud observant Jew and Pharisee (Phil 3:5; Acts 22:3,23:6). In Romans 11 Paul alludes to some great spiritual resurrection for the Gentiles and the world in the eschatological future as a result of the ‘ingrafting’ of the surviving Jewish community  into the Olive Tree that is the Church.


[1] Ian J. Elmer, Paul, Jerusalem and the Judaisers: the Galatian crisis in its broadest historical context (Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 3-25.
[2] Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee: A new look at the Jewishness of Jesus (Wipf and Stock Publishers: 2003): 19.
[3] The relationship of Paul with the Pillars of the Jerusalem Church is another area of scholarly debate. Depending on how the Greek of Galatians is translated can affect how one perceives this relationship.
[4] Falk, Jesus the Pharisee…, 19.
[5] Mark S. Kinzer, Searching Her Own Mystery: Nostra Aetate, the Jewish People, and the Identity of the Church, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015): 38, 218.
[6] Elmer, Paul, Jerusalem and the Judaisers…, 3-25.
[7] There were different levels of Torah observance among Jews. Some Jews like the Pharisees kept a more stringent form. There is nothing wrong with extra stringency when done from devotion either as individuals or as a group but should not be forced on other people or groups. Jesus often clashed with those who were trying to enforce extra stringencies on other Jews. The priests for example kept certain stringencies that were not meant to be forced on the lay Jews.
[8]Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law.” (Gal 5:3, NRSV).
[9] Richard Longenecker, Galatians, eds., Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, Glenn W. Barker et al., Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1990): 41:226.
[10] Brad Young, Paul the Jewish Theologian: A Pharisee among Christians, Jews and Gentiles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 90.
[11] Pinchas Lapide and Peter Stulhmacher, Paul: Rabbi and Apostle, trans. Lawrence W. Denef (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1984), 42.
[12] Hilary Le Cornu and Joseph Shulam, A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Galatians (Jerusalem: Akademon, 2005): 327.
[13] Mark D. Nanos, The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First Century Context (Fortress Press: Minneapolis MN, 2002), 253.
[14]  William S. Campbell, Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity (London: T&T Clark, 2008), 89-93.
[15] Mark D. Nanos, “The myth of the ‘Law-Free’ Paul standing between Christians and Jews,” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 4:1 (2009): 4. Accessed 30 April 2018. doi: 10.6017/scjr.v4i1.1511
[16] Pamela Eisenbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 252.
[17] Brian J. Tucker, ‘Remain in Your Calling:’ Paul and the Continuation of Social Identities in 1 Corinthians (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011), 62-114.
[18] Mark D Nanos, The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul's Letter (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 1996): 9.
[19] Albert Hogeterp, Paul and God's temple: a historical interpretation of cultic imagery in the Corinthian correspondence (Dudley, MA: Peeters Publishers, 2006), 55-57.
[20] Douglas A. Campbell, Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2014), 337.
[21] Nicholas Thomas Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 60.
[22] Solomon Schechter and Julius H. Greenstone, Jewish Encyclopedia, “Gezerah,” 1906, accessed 28 April 2018, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6646-gezerah.
[23] Schechter and Greenstone, Jewish Encyclopedia, “Gezerah.”
[24]  Colossian 2:14 also refers to these dogmasin or gezerot which is translated as “handwriting in decrees”.
[25] Jesus saying in Matthew’s Gospel that the Torah was not abolished (Matt 5:17) seems to conflict with Ephesians saying the Law was abolished (Eph 2:15, NRSV) rather than just these rabbinic decrees being annulled when understood in its correct context.
[26] Clyde Weber Votaw, “The Temple at Jerusalem in Jesus' Day,” The Biblical World 23:3 (1904): 172-173. Accessed 1 May 2018, https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/473359.
[27] The Cheil is the stone wall and this is surmounted with lattice work and together they are called the Soreg. A sign threatening the death penalty for any Gentile passing this wall was hung on the wall.
[28] Tim Hegg, “The ‘Dividing Wall’ in Ephesians 2: 14: What is it? Who made it? How was it broken down?” accessed 1 May 2018, http://www.protorah.com/wpcontent/uploads/2014/12/The_Dividing_Wall_in_Ephesians_2_14.pdf.
[29] Schechter and Greenstone, Jewish Encyclopedia, “Gezerah.”
[30] This vision had nothing to do with the abolition of Kosher food laws but was referring to the 18 gezerot and their extensions of strict separation of Jews from Gentiles.
[31] Pamela Eisenbaum, “A remedy for having been born of woman: Jesus, Gentiles, and genealogy in Romans,” Journal of Biblical Literature 123:4 (2004): 671-702. Accessed 1 May 2018. doi: 10.2307/3268465

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