Paul and the Jewish World

It is clear that Christianity had a message for the whole world, and unless the message was delivered, the church would fail in her God-given duty. A big problem was that the world hated the Jews and the Jews hated the world. Clearly, one thing was necessary, a man who could somehow form a bridge between the Jewish and the Greek worlds. Let’s look at Paul the Jew:

Paul was proudly, stubbornly and unalterably a Jew:

  1. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. (2 Corinthians 11:22)
  2. Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. (Philippians 3:4-6)
  3. I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 11:1)

His Jewishness comes out in his writings:

  1. For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; (1 Corinthians 10:1)
  2. What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? (Romans 4:1)
  3. And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived [twins] by one man, our father Isaac; (Romans 9:10)
  4. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy [be] upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:16)
  5. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, [separated] from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, (Romans 9:3)
  6. But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” (Acts 21:39)
  7. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today. (Acts 22:3)
  8. And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” (Acts 23:1)
  9. But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul [began] crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” (Acts 23:6)

The Jews were without excuse to remain ignorant:

  1. Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)
  2. Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. (Romans 3:1-2)

Paul uses Jewish festivals in dating:

  1. But I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; (1 Corinthians 16:8)
  2. And when considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul [began] to admonish them, (Acts 27:9) The fast was on the Day of Atonement (Lev 23: 27-29)

Paul did not abandon the ancestral customs of his people:

  1. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:3)
  2. And Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow. (Acts 18:18) The Nazarite Vow.
  3. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; (1 Corinthians 9:20)

Paul was a man of one book – he quotes from the Septuagint (LXX) and not the Hebrew and uses the Old Testament as a Rabbi would – allegories.

  1. For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? (1 Corinthians 9:9)
  2. The story of the old and new covenants (Galatians 4:22-31)
  3. And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)

Paul knew the special tradition of the Rabbis:

  1. Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made. (Galatians 3:19)
  2. You who received the law as ordained by angels, and [yet] did not keep it.” (Acts 7:53)
  3. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, (Hebrews 2:2). There is nothing in the Old Testament that connects angels with the giving of the Law.
  4. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise (Galatians 3:17). This is another Rabbinic addition.
  5. And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4). Rabbis taught that an actual rock followed them, a miracle addition to the Old Testament narrative.

It is important to note that Paul understood Judaism at its highest and did not abandon it for lack of understanding.

This material is from William Barclay, the Mind of St. Paul, 1975.

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