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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Set Apart From Birth

This is the first part in a series on the life of the apostle Paul. First off, using the term, “the apostle Paul” may conjure up images of some holy man, spiritual mystic, saintly statue or iconoclastic portrait, but in the original language of the New Testament (Greek), the term apostle really means “one who is sent out.” That is exactly what happened to Paul in the New Testament, he was called by God and sent out with a message. That is what we read about in the book of Acts; Paul and his missionary journeys take up most of the book’s content.

The passage today is from Galatians 1:15-16, where Paul tells us that he was set apart from birth and called by God; that the Father revealed the Son to him so that he might preach to the nations. The question comes, what may have been the upbringing of Paul? In what sort of home was he raised? Taken from Scripture and the Code of Jewish Law (which for centuries has been the foundation of Jewish life), Paul’s life was surrounded by Jewish custom and tradition, and guided his Jewish moral, social and religious behavior.

In Galatians 1:15-16, since Paul mentions being set apart from birth, he describes the rite of circumcision, which is the sign of the covenant (going all the way back to Abraham, Genesis 17:2, 7, 9, 10, 14). Paul includes in his testimony that he was the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), a topic on which I will follow up next time.

The Jewish household was surrounded by Scripture, even from the very front door of the home. A mezuzah (the little container attached to the doorpost) contained a portion of sacred Scripture from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21. These are the bedrock of the Jewish faith.

There were three priorities for the devout Jew: study of the Torah (the Law of Moses), marriage, and doing good deeds. I’ll save the look into Paul’s boyhood home for next time.

So, what does this all have to do with us today? When was the last time you looked at your spiritual past? From where did you come? How far has the Lord brought you? You know more than anyone where you have been, and out of what God has saved you. Do you understand that what he has done in your life is no accident? We can also have the same response as Paul, that we have been called from birth. Circumcision is not the issue, but once we have come into a relationship with Christ, we can begin to see that He has guided us down a path that includes providential care and provision. We might not see it during the early or dark days, but hindsight is always 20/20, we can see how God has led us to where we are today. Take time this day to rejoice in what God has done in your life.

Secondly, how committed are you to the Word of God? Does your soul hunger and thirst for the things of God? Do you long to hear from Him? Do the Scriptures comfort your soul and fill your spirit? How do you handle the Word of God? Do your kids know how much the Bible means to you and your spiritual life? Do they see you reading from it and do you teach its principles each day?

One last question: do you sense the need and urgency to make necessary changes to become all that God desires for you to be? Not just for your own sake, but for your family’s sake.

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