The Apostle to the Gentiles

The Apostle to the Gentiles

For an overview of scholarship on Paul, see Magnus Zetterholm Approaches to Paul: A Student’s Guide to Recent Scholarship (Fortress, 2009) and for the social make-up of Pauline congregations see Wayne Meeks The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (Yale University Press, 2003) or Justin Meggitt Paul, Poverty and Survival (T&T Clark, 1998).  For bibliographic resources or academic websites on Paul’s life or thought, see Mark Goodacre’s section on Paul at www.ntgateway.com, Mark Mattison’s www.thepaulpage.com/, or Jenee Woodard’s www.textweek.com/pauline/paul.htm.

Paul’s “Conversion” or “Prophetic Call”

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism [Ioudaismos]. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it.  I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.  In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!  Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, ‘The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.’  And they glorified God because of me. (Gal 1:13-24)

  • The story of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, and the purification of the great temple, and the dedication of the altar, and further the wars against Antiochus Epiphanes and his son Eupator, and the appearances which came from heaven to those who strove zealously on behalf of Judaism [Ioudaismos], so that though few in number they seized the whole land and pursued the barbarian hordes, and recovered the temple famous throughout the world and freed the city and restored the laws that were about to be abolished… (2 Macc 2:19-22)
  • But Judas, who was also called Maccabeus, and his companions secretly entered the villages and summoned their kinsmen and enlisted those who had continued in the Jewish faith [Ioudaismos], and so they gathered about six thousand men (2 Macc 8:1)
  • For in former times, when there was no mingling with the Gentiles, he had been accused of Judaism [Ioudaismos], and for Judaism [Ioudaismos] he had with all zeal risked body and life.
  • … when, then, his [Antiochus’] decrees were despised by the people, he himself, through torture, tried to compel everyone in the nation to eat defiling foods and to renounce Judaism (4 Macc 4:26)

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.  Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ [faith of Christ], the righteousness from God based on faith[fulness]. (Phil 3:4-8)

‘I [Paul] am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today.  I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. (Acts 22:1-9; cf. 9:1-19; 26:4-23)

Differing Views in the “Old Perspective”, “New Perspective” and “Radical New Perspective” on Paul

* Note that these labels broadly cover a diversity of perspectives within them.  That is, there may be differences in “Lutheran” or “Reformed” readings of Paul in the “Old Perspective” and there are individual nuances in prominent “New Perspective” scholars (e.g., E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, N.T. Wright).

The Old Perspective on Paul (OPP):

  1. Pauline theology is interpreted in light of Martin Luther’s protest against Catholicism and the Reformation battle cry “sola fide” (by faith alone).
  2. In Paul’s former life, he practiced Torah to merit divine favour and as a way to boast of his self-righteousness.
  3. After his “conversion,” Paul became convicted of the universal sinfulness of humanity, regardless of whether one is under the Law (Jews) or apart from it (Gentiles), and the solution is the atoning death of Christ which took on the “curse of the Law” on behalf of the rest of humankind.
  4. Humans are made righteous or justified by “faith in Christ” and given the “righteousness of God” in exchange for their sinful nature.  The indwelling Spirit enables one to become a “new creation” and is a guarantee of future salvation.
  5. Scholars who advocate the OPP have softened the depiction of “Second Temple Judaism” as a legalistic system of works-righteousness (e.g., variegated nomism where both grace and good deeds are important), but most continue to see the plight as divine wrath against sin and solution in the justifying faith in the saving death & resurrection of Christ.
  6. Some key scholars: Rudolf Bultmann, Ernst Kaseman, Donald Carson, Mark A. Seifrid, Peter Stuhlmacher, Donald Hagner, Robert Gundry, Seyoon Kim, Douglas J. Moo, Thomas Schreiner, Stephen Westerholm, Simon Gathercole, Francis Watson

The New Perspective (NPP)

  1. Unlike Martin Luther’s worries over how to be accepted by a holy God, Paul may not have struggled with an introspective conscience and describes his former life under Torah as “blameless” (cf. Krister Stendahl).
  2. E.P. Sanders described the “pattern of religion” characteristic of Second Temple Judaism as “covenantal nomism.”  That is, Torah observance was the appropriate response to God’s prior gracious election of Israel; it was not a means of “getting in” but “staying in” as a member of the covenant people.  Those who flagrantly disobey Torah show themselves to have rejected the covenant, but repentance or cultic atonement was always an available means of restoration.  Some criticisms include the assumption of a monolithic “pattern of religion” or reading the Jewish sources through the lens of Protestant soteriology, leading to even more nuanced discussion about election, covenant and works of the Law among diverse Second Temple groups.
  3. Paul’s criticism of “works of the Law” was not against works-righteousness apart from grace.  “Works of the Law” represents a particular Jewish mode of life, but Paul aims his critique at those areas that exclude Gentiles from the covenant people and focuses on specific “boundary markers” that separated Jews from the nations (e.g., circumcision, food, Sabbath).  Paul attacks “ethnocentrism” in favour of a universalistic vision in which he believed the “righteousness of God” or God’s faithfulness to his divine or covenant plan was for blessing to go out from Israel to the world.
  4. In reasoning why the nations can be adopted into Abraham’s family along with Israel apart from practicing Torah as the sign of covenant membership, Paul argues that both Jews and Gentiles are under sin and in need of the saving effects of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection.  All Christ followers are justified – either made righteous or declared to be in the right in the divine court (cf. NT Wright) – by “faith in Christ” or through the “faithfulness of Christ.”
  5. The universal family “in Christ” is no longer under Torah, though Paul has a similar pattern of election followed by faithful obedience of the Law of Christ or fruits of the Spirit that fulfills the commandments, yet Paul allows for diversity of social practice among Jewish and non-Jewish members of the community.
  6. Some key scholars: Krister Stendahl, E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, N.T. Wright, Heikki Räisänen, Richard Hays, Frank Thielman, Don Garlington, Daniel Boyarin

The Radical New Perspective on Paul

  1. The NPP view on covenantal nomism as a basic framework and Paul’s overriding concern with how the nations can become co-heirs of salvation with the covenant people (Israel) is the starting point.
  2. Unlike some advocates of the NPP, these scholars consider Paul to remain a faithful Torah-observant Jew and to never encourage his fellow Jews to abandon Torah.
  3. His letters are addressed almost exclusively to non-Jewish readers and his polemic against the “works of the Law” is solely against those who force non-Jews to become proselytes by adopting circumcision and Torah.  Paul believes that the new eschatological age has arrived and that the Scriptures speak of nations streaming into Zion in the last days without the requirement to become Jews (“to Judaize”).
  4. Some scholars label this approach as a “two-covenant” solution:  the atoning effects of Christ’s death and the necessity of “faith in Christ”/”the faithfulness of Christ” was only for the nations who were previously excluded from the means of atonement already available to Israel through the covenant, Torah and cultic apparatus.
  5. Some key scholars: John Gager, Lloyd Gaston, Mark Nanos, Paula Fredriksen, Pamela Eisenbaum, Caroline Hodge, Stanley Stowers, Neil Elliott, Magnus Zetterholm

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