7. Paul and Jews
It has long and often been alleged that Paul is a father of Christian anti-Semitism. Where does he stand on the staples of that vile record?
Take two of these.
First, did he call the Jews Jesus-killers? Second, did he say that Jews are cursed by God? On the killing of Jews, he first denies that the Jews did it. "Not a single one of the rulers of the world knew this [the revelation]. Had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of splendor" (1 Cor 2:8). The Jews were not the rulers of the world when Jesus was killed. They were themselves ruled by the rulers of the world, the Romans, who killed Jesus. On the other hand, Paul does say that the same Jews who killed earlier prophets also killed Jesus. Writing to the Thessalonians, he says:
You, Brothers, have repeated what happened to God's Ju-daean gatherings that were in Messiah-Jesus, since you have suffered from your own kinsmen what they did from the Jews, who killed the Lord and the prophets—the same who drove us away from you, displeasing God and opposing all men by preventing us from telling the nations how they are rescued, which completes their account of guilt over all time, anticipating the last anger against them. (1 Thess 2:14-16)
This is the greatest proof text in the authentic [REMEMBER THE AUTHOR ONLY HOLDS 7 OF PAUL’S EPISTLES AS “authentic” - Keith Hunt] letters for Paul's anti-Semitism. Some argue that it, like the passage telling Corinthian women to shut up, is an interpolation by later people with later attitudes, and there are some oddities about the text that might help them in their claim. But the effort to get rid of the passage is too clearly a matter of wishful thinking. The matter must be considered later.
[AH YES SOME LIKE TO TEAR OUT SECTIONS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT WHEN IT DOES NOT FIT THEIR IDEAS - A WAY OF MAKING THE BIBLE SAY WHAT YOU WANT IT TO SAY - Keith Hunt]
On the second point, did Paul say that God cursed the Jews? Definitely not: "I tell you: Has God repudiated his own people? Far from it!" (Rom 11.1). How could they be his own people if he repudiated them? On the other hand, Paul wrote: "Those who act under the Law are under a curse" (Gal 3.10).
How is one to reconcile such divergent statements? A first reaction may be to say that this was one crazy mixed-up Jew—and that may, in fact, be the beginning of wisdom. It may free us from the false starting point so many take with Paul—one assuming that that he left Judaism to join and promote a different religion, the Christian church, pitting the latter against the former. But there was no such entity in his time as a Christian church. There were only Jews who saw Jesus as the promised Messiah of the Jews and, supplementarily, Gentiles who saw Jesus as the promised Messiah of the Jews, who were the people Paul was sent to call in. He teaches his followers from nothing but the Jewish scriptures, and presents the Messiah as the fulfillment of the Jewish covenant. We thus have a continuum between three groups:
Jews not accepting Jesus as the Messiah of the Jews
Jews accepting Jesus as the Messiah of the Jews
Non-Jews accepting Jesus as the Messiah of the Jews
There is no one here outside a Jewish context, no group to be opposed to the Jews as a whole. There are only divisions within the Jewish understanding of Yahweh. What we have is a family quarrel.
Paul never presents Jesus as the God of the Greeks, as the Wisdom of Plato, as the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle. He never quotes a passage or an argument about God from pagan philosophers or non-Jewish authors. (Luke makes him do that once—but Paul never does it in his own writings.) Paul's Gentile Brothers are instructed over and over in the intricacies of Jewish history and prophecy. They are told that they are the seed of Abraham, and told in detail why this is so (Rom 4.1-17). The prophets foretold their rescue—Paul calls the roll of them (Rom 15.9-12). For Paul there was no such thing as "the Old Testament." If he had known that his writings would be incorporated into something called the New Testament, he would have repudiated that if it was meant in any way to repudiate, or subordinate, the only scripture he knew, the only word of God he recognized, his Bible.
[THE APOSTLES KNEW THEY WERE WRITING SCRIPTURE, EXPANDING THE HOLY WORD OF GOD, THE ALL IN ALL INSPIRED FOR THIS PRESENT AGE SINCE CHRIST. SEE THE STUDIES OF CANONSHIP OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENMT ON THIS WEBSITE - UNDER “HOW WE GOT THE BIBLE” - Keith Hunt]
One of the most basic problems in reading Paul is knowing what he means when he refers to "Jews." People repeatedly mistake him as referring to the Jews of the number 1 group when he is talking about those listed as number 2. The latter are the ones he has continuing contact and conflict with, as they try to impose Jewish Law on their Gentile brothers. Thus, when he says that Jews are "preventing us from telling the nations how they are rescued," he is referring to people like the "circumcisionists," or those imposing the Jewish food code on Brothers. [NO, THE FOOD LAWS WERE NEVER AN ISSUE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH OF GOD; IT IS ONLY IN THE IMAGINATION OF PEOPLE LIKE THIS AUTHOR - Keith Hunt]. Those are the adversaries that "dog" him from Antioch to Philippi (Phil 3.2). They precede him into Rome. In fact, as we shall see, it will be the Jewish Brothers who betray Paul to Nero for execution. Paul's harshest words about his fellow Jews are about his fellow Brother Jews, the ones who would later he called Christians. These are the ones he calls hypocrites (including Peter and James and Barnabas) and dogs (Gal 2.13, Phil 3.2). These are the ones he calls "damned" (anathema) in his anger against them (Gal 1.8-9).
[TRUE PAUL WAS WAY MORE CONCERNED ABOUT JEWS WHO HAD COME INTO THE CHURCH, AT LEAST FELLOWSHIPPING WITH THEM, WHO STILL TAUGHT THE PHYSICAL RITES OF CIRCUMCISION AND TEMPLE RITUALS, NEEDED TO BE DONE TO BE SAVED - Keith Hunt]
That is enough to make us go back and look at the proof text for his anti-Semitism (1 Thess 2:14-16). Clearly in that passage the ones who are preventing the spread of the revelation to Gentiles are the Brother Jews. Are they the ones killing Jesus and the prophets? Not in the sense that the "rulers of the world" did at the crucifixion, but Paul sees the life of Jesus as his continuing presence in the body of the believers. Those who oppose him there are trying to kill him, as they did the prophets who proclaim the risen Lord (Paul among them). They are the ones who are "completing an account of guilt." If anyone thinks this is too strong a thing to say about Paul's fellow believers in Jesus, what do they make of his calling his fellow believers hypocrites and dogs and damned? These are ones who will turn Paul—and Peter as well—over for execution.
[THEY AND OTHERS FROM THE GENTILES ARE THE ONES WHO CAME INTO THE CHURCH OF GOD AND EVENTUALLY OUT, OR THEY CAST OUT TRUE CHILDREN OF GOD AS THEY GAINED POWER. THE ARE THE MANY ANTI-CHRISTS JOHN TALKS ABOUT IN HIS LETTERS; THEY ARE THE ONES JESUS SAID WOULD COME AND SAY HE (CHRIST) WAS THE CHRIST, BUT WOULD DECEIVE THE MANY. THEY ARE THE ONES WHO TWISTED THE WORD OF GOD TO THEIR DESTRUCTION; THE ONES WHO DID NOT LOVE THE TRUTH. THEY ARE THE ONES WHO WOULD BE THE START OF THE LEADERS AND PEOPLE WHO EVENTUALLY FORMED THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH - Keith Hunt]
It would, in fact, make more sense to call Paul an anti-Jewish-Christian polemicist than an anti-Semite.
But in any case there is no more Semitic a Semite than Paul.
"If one relies on lineage, I can do so more than others—circumcised on the eighth day, by race a man of Israel, by tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew from Hebrews, in Law a Pharisee, in dedication a persecutor of the gathering, in vindication under the Law a man faultless" (1 Phil 3:4-6). "For Jewishness I outstripped many contemporaries of my own lineage, extreme in my jealous preservation of the patriarchs' traditions" (Gal 1:14).
Paul is just as Jewish as Jewish can be. "I, after all, am an Israelite, of Abraham's seed, of Benjamin's tribe. God has not repudiated our people, recognized as his from the outset" (Rom 11:1-2). He cannot say it often enough or emphatically enough. "I could prefer to be outcast from Messiah myself if it would help my brothers, the forebears of my flesh, who are the Israelites. Theirs is the sonship, and the splendor, and the covenants, and the gift of Law, and the rites, and the promises. From them are the patriarchs, and from them, by fleshly descent, is the Messiah, the God above all, may he ever be praised. Amen" (Rome 9:3-5). Paul never boasts, as Luke makes him boast, of being a Roman citizen. He never boasts of coming from "a city of some note" (Ac 21.39). He boasts only of his Jewish roots and observance.
[IN HIS WRITING HE NEVER BOASTED THAT WAY, BUT AGAIN LUKE IS NOT INSPIRED IN THE MIND OF THIS AUTHOR. PAUL USED HIS BACKGROUND AND LEGALITY AS A ROMAN CITIZEN, WHEN NEEDED, AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT— AS JESUS SAID “BE AS WISE AS SERPENTS AND HARMLESS AS A DOVE” - KEITH HUNT]
Then how, it is asked, can he attack the Jewish Law?
To be brief, he doesn't.
The Letter to the Romans, often taken to be Paul's central statement of doctrine, is usually misread because of the confusion of the three meanings of "Jews" already listed. It is thought to contrast the number 1 group of Jews with a fictive entity, Christianity. Actually, as I argued in the last chapter, Paul was addressing the number 3 group of Jews (Gentile believers in the Jewish Messiah), saying that they should defer to the scruples of the number 2 group in Rome, a minority of the Brothers in Rome. But this meant that he was speaking over the heads of number 3 Jews to number 2 ones (the Jewish Brothers who are to be accepted). And he is speaking over their heads to the Brothers in Jerusalem, whom he expects to read this letter, assuring them that he has not lost touch with their concerns. He is even speaking over the latter heads to the number 1 group, of Jews not yet accepting Jesus as the Messiah, saying that to do so is not to show disrespect for the Mosaic Law.
All this interplay of audiences is made possible, but also complicated, by the diatribe technique in this letter, the voicing of various views by various assumed personae. The complex relations thus set up are trampled into indistinguishable muddle by those who say Paul was attacking "Jewish Law" from the standpoint of "Christianity." And that simplism is further simplified by those who think he is attacking "law" or "works" in general from the standpoint of "faith" as a means of "justification" (the Lutheran reading at the very heart of Protestantism).
All such approaches misread the first and obvious intent of the letter, which was to reconcile all groups of Jews, telling them not to judge one another (Rom 2:1), since God, who plays no favorites (2:11), is on the side of them all: "There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, since there is only one Lord over all, profuse toward all who call on him, and all who call on the Lord's name will be rescued" (10:12).
The important first thing to notice about the letter is that when Paul speaks of moving beyond God's Law he is speaking of two laws laid down by God—not only the Jewish Law given to Moses, but the natural law given to Gentiles. He contrasts both laws with a single promise given to both Jews and Gentiles, the promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations (4:13). Jesus moves beyond both laws by being the fulfillment of the single promise.
The law given to the Gentiles is graven not on stone tablets but in their hearts: "From the universe's framing, men have perceived his unseen attributes, knowable from what he has done—his boundless power and divinity. This left them no excuse, when, despite knowing there is a God, they did not acknowledge his splendor and give thanks for it" (1:20-21).
"Even when not expressly given law, the nations acknowledge the law, finding, even without law, a kind of law in themselves—those at any rate who show the effects of law written in their hearts, calling conscience as their witness when they argue with each other over whether this party is wrong, that party right—against the day when God will sift the secret things of man, according to the revelation I bring, in Messiah-Jesus" (2.14-16). But simply knowing natural law does not make men follow nature. The Gentiles are, as a whole, sinners. Proud of their philosophy, they proved fools (1:22).
Nor does having God's express Law make Jews follow it. On the contrary, as prophet after prophet assured them, the Jews are a rebellious people (10:21)—and their rebellion brings dishonor on God's name among the Gentiles (2:24). God punishes the offenders against both laws, natural law and covenant Law, the Jews in the first place, since the Law was their special possession to honor, but also the Gentiles (2:10)—just as he chose in the first place the Jews, but also the Gentiles (1:16). "Are we Jews ahead? Not entirely. We have seen the single sentence against all of us, Jew and Gentile, for the reign of sin, just as scripture tells us, 'None, not one, is vindicated.'" (3:9-10). To shame the Jews, God has called in the Gentiles to share the blessings promised to Jews. He is using the Gentiles, as he used Pharaoh (9:17), to correct the Jews. For they will be corrected. Their defection is only temporary.
I say they have been tripped up. Does that mean they have fallen? Far from it. Their tripping means rescue for the Gentiles, to stimulate the Jews to compete. If their tripping up enriches the rest of the universe, if their loss is the Gentiles' gain, how much greater will be their own restored gain. If their lapse has meant the winning over of the universe, what can their restoration mean but life rising up from death? (11:11,15)
As Krister Stendahl puts it, the Letter to the Romans is about God's cosmic "traffic plan." The Jews have been put "on hold," to bring the Gentiles up to speed. "The Jews in God's plan had to step aside for a little while so that the Gentiles had time to come in." This is God's surprise way of completing the promise issued in the first place:
All Israel will be rescued, as scripture says: "Out of Zion comes the Rescuer, to rip away iniquities from Jacob, so my covenant abides with them, to remedy their sinfulness." (11:26-27)
Paul says that it is necessary to honor the Jewish Law, even though Gentiles are not required to observe all its ceremonial requirements. He even says that "Jesus is an attendant (diakonos) on circumcision" (Rom 15:8).
Why is Paul making these points to the Romans?
Remember the situation he is addressing, where the Gentile Brothers are receiving back the Jewish Brothers, after the Claudian expulsion ended. Some Gentile Brothers were not honoring the Jewish Brothers' wish to keep up their observance of the Law. Paul has to remind the Gentile Brothers that the promises fulfilled by Jesus are Jewish promises, and the memory of the promise was passed down under the protection of the Law.
"Has circumcision any use at all? It matters a great deal, chiefly because they were the custodians of the pronouncements of God" (3:1-2).
Gentiles must acknowledge that the Mosaic Law was the custodian ("pedagogue" he calls it at Galatians 3.24) of the revelation that Jesus fulfills. Gentiles are grafted on to the Jewish trunk. But for that trunk, they would be floating in air, unconnected with God's design for the world and its rescue.
This reminder to the Gentile Brothers is rightly called by Stendahl the first and best warning against what would become Christian anti-Semitism:
Some branches have been stripped away, and you, an alien olive branch, have been grafted on in their place and have taken on the life of the olive tree's original root— which is no reason to crow over the replaced branches. However you may crow, you do not support the root—it supports you. Do you boast that those branches were stripped away to graft you in? Exactly. They were stripped away because they betrayed their trust. That is no reason for your elation, but for apprehension. If God did not spare those natural growths, why should he spare you? Consider God's beneficence, but also his rigor. His rigor was exercised against those who failed, and his beneficence toward you, provided you retain his beneficence, lest you too be cut away. And they will be grafted on again if they do not continue betraying their trust—it is easy for God to graft them on again, since you were unnaturally grafted when torn from an alien stock, but he can far more naturally graft them back on to their native tree. I would impress this secret providence on you, Brothers, to keep you from confidence in your own conceit— that part of Israel has lost its vision, but only until the full number of Gentiles is brought in. Then all Israel will be rescued, as scripture says: "Out of Zion comes the Rescuer, to rip away iniquities from Jacob, so my covenant abides with them, to remedy their sinfulness." They are now foes to the revelation for your sake, but by their singling out they are the patriarchs' favored sons. God does not go back on what he gave them, they are his chosen ones. As you were outside the trust in God but are now spared, their betrayal of trust leads to your being spared— but they will be spared in their turn. God provides for the betrayal of all to bring about the sparing of all. (11:17-32)
This optimism about God's inclusive plan hardly reflects the dark views of election, justification, and predestination that have been wrested out of the letter to the Romans. This is a letter of consolation and reconciliation: Paul did not think in terms of individual souls damned but of the rescue of whole peoples—indeed of the whole cosmos.
I would not count the suffering of this present order as at all comparable with the splendor that is to be unveiled for the offspring of God. The very frame of things is giddy with apprehension at what will be unveiled for the sons of God. The frame of things has been baffled, despite itself, by the one constraining it—yet with hope, since the whole frame will be liberated from its imprisoning decay, freed into the splendor of God's offspring. All this frame of things, we realize, has been moaning in the throes of some birth—and we, moreover, though we have the first harvest of the Spirit, moan along with it, yearning for full adoption as heirs and for the release of our bodies, saved by our trust. (8:18-24)
Even after some people admit the inclusiveness of Paul's hopeful vision for all peoples, they misunderstand him in any number of ways. To list just three:
1. Some think that he says the conversion of the Jews must precede the end of the world. But that would be grafting the trunk onto the branches. Paul speaks of the Brothers as joined to the Jewish promise, history, and fate, not vice versa. As Krister Stendahl says, Paul always thought of Gentiles as "honorary Jews."2 How the original Jews and the honorary ones will be united at the climax of time is a mystery Paul leaves to God for accomplishment. He talks always of God's initiative, not man's. He does not know how the promise will be fulfilled, only that it will be, since God is the promiser. God's word must and will be kept. He never goes back on a promise (Rom 11:29). It is his responsibility. Our job is to trust in that word. "Does their betrayal of trust legitimate God's betraying his trust? Far from it. God will prove true though all men lie. As scripture has it: 'Whatever charge is brought against you, you are vindicated, in every judicial proceeding you prevail'" (3:4).
"Has God rejected his own people? Far from it" (11:1).
2. Others have argued that Paul, since he does not see God canceling the Jewish Law, believes in a "two-track" rescue of mankind. Gentiles will believe in Jesus and Jews will stay with their Law, and only Gentiles will be rescued by Jesus. But Paul does not ever see Jesus as separate from the Jewish covenant and its fulfillment. Later generations would talk of conversion to Jesus as to a separate religion, that of "the New Testament."
It cannot be repeated often enough that Paul knew of no…. rescue but that of the promise given to the Jewish people. He did not believe in a substitution of a new way to be rescued. He did believe, with Jesus, that the claims of the prophets had to be fulfilled, making a religion of the heart replace that of external observances. But he retained the core value of the Jewish Law, as both Jesus and he affirmed it. "The entire Law is fulfilled in this one saying, Love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal 5:14). "This is the Law and the prophets" (Mt 7:12)….. Nonetheless, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish scripture, not of some separate revelation. Jesus believed in a religion of the heart that would oppose later Christian religious observance as much as any Jewish ceremonies. Jesus founded no new religion, and Paul preached none.
[AMEN TO THAT, BUT WHY THEN DO WE HAVE A CHRISTIAN RELIGION WITH TEACHINGS AND CUSTOMS FAR REMOVED FROM THE APOSTLES JEWISH/CHRISTIAN RELIGION? ALL WHO CALL THEMSELVES “CHRISTIAN” NEED TO MEDITATE DEEPLY ON THAT QUESTION - Keith Hunt]
3. A deeper misunderstanding of Paul's inclusiveness would move off entirely from the Jewish-Gentile issue. It turns the contrasts between a religion of the heart and that of the external purity code into Luther's contrast between faith and works. Luther said that faith in God alone "justifies" a person, apart from any virtuous acts. Paul was saying that observing external acts—like circumcision…. is not a substitute for the internal acts of the Law, for love of God and one's neighbor. He calls this interior observance a "circumcision of the heart" (Rom 2:29). Paul criticized as sinners those Jews who departed from this internal law, just as he criticized Gentiles who departed from the natural law given them by God.
Luther was thinking in terms of the internal struggle of the individual sinner, not of the rescue of whole peoples, as Paul did—and as a prominent Lutheran bishop like Krister Stendahl does.
Paul saw God's plan as dealing "wholesale," not retail. He was in a race with history, on his way to Spain, recruiting Romans in his effort to cover the whole Gentile world while he went back to bring the Jewish Brothers "on board" this mission. He was counting on the Jewish Brothers to bring their countrymen to a realization that Jesus is the one they had been promised and were still hoping for. His message was always of and for his—and Jesus'— blood kin.
PAUL WAS AS FAR AWAY FROM ANTI-SEMITISM AS NIGHT IS FROM DAY, EAST IS FROM WEST, NORTH IS FROM SOUTH - Keith Hunt