Paul’s Critique of Judaism?

I’m working on my paper on Galatians 3:10-14 for the St. Andrews conference next week (along with doing some other field research that I may discuss in coming days), and I’m giving some thought to Paul’s critique of Judaism.

I’m not convinced that Paul actually has any critiques of Judaism.  “Perspectives” are actually multiplying, but according to the “traditional perspective,” Paul criticized Judaism for its legalism.  For the “new perspective,” Paul’s criticism was that Judaism was ethnocentric.

More recently, Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm, among others, have noted that the “new perspective” doesn’t really get too far beyond that which it replaced in that both fall prey to imagining that Paul ever leveled a “critique of Judaism.”

I tend to agree, though perhaps not for the same reasons.  So, for those who do regard Paul as critiquing Judaism, what passages come to mind to endorse such a conception?

8 thoughts on “Paul’s Critique of Judaism?

  1. Jason A. Staples

    I’m with you, Tim. I don’t think Paul critiques “Judaism” any more than the Qumran sectarians do, for example. He (like them) just believes the day of eschatological fulfillment and the restoration of Israel has come and is proclaiming the promised new covenant, the time where YHWH’s law is written on the hearts of his people.

    Doesn’t sound like much of a critique of “Judaism” to me. He has harsh words for his opponents, who don’t agree with his conclusions, but it’s anachronistic to speak of an “attack against Judaism.”

    1. timgombis

      In a sense, Paul is having an intra-Jewish argument in Galatians (at least with the influencers).

      Further, Galatians and Romans are pastoral letters in which Paul is trying to solve community problems. He’s not expounding on theological topics, but offering pastoral counsel from the perspective of that eschatological reality you mentioned.

  2. Bill C

    I agree with your thoughts and Jason’s…The Christ brought covenant to the next level so that through Deliberative Rhetoric Paul offers that heirs of God is “bedda” (Boston-speak) than sons of Abraham…

  3. Patrick

    I would argue Paul did criticize the Judaism “of the day” as opposed to “biblical Judaism” that should have been gleaned from the OT text and sacrificial/Levitical traditions. He was criticizing the same things Jesus did. They had elevated the traditions of man above the expressed desires of God.

    I would use Philippians 3 , lots of Galatians, some of the Romans passages dealing specifically with the problems between Jews and Gentiles in that assembly and Colossians 2 as evidence Paul did denigrate specific ideas of 2cd temple Judaism.

    To me that would be like Paul writing the church today and criticizing various doctrinal views of some or all of us as believers. We would not say Paul was denigrating Christianity, just flawed ideas Christians have developed.

    1. timgombis

      I’m not convinced that Paul is critiquing Judaism, though he’s certainly going after practices, patterns of behavior, and relational dynamics that run against the grain of the gospel. But I don’t think Paul sees Judaism as a monolithic entity or even a body of thought that can be critiqued or affirmed. He does indeed mention it in Gal. 1, but even in Galatians, I don’t think he’s criticizing it so much as he wants the gentile hearers and the (probably) Jewish influencers to be consistent with the gospel.

      In Phil. 3, it seems that Paul is talking about his own idolatrous pursuits before his ‘conversion’ and not so much about Judaism as such. I guess that’s my larger point: that Paul is not really ever making reference to Judaism as a distinct body of thought or practice so much as the non-gospel oriented practices and attitudes of people who happen to be Jewish.

    2. timgombis

      Patrick, I was thinking of similar contemporary analogies. If Paul was rebuking a contemporary church for certain perverted practices, we wouldn’t say that Paul’s gospel opposes “Americanism,” would we? Or something like that…

    1. timgombis

      I do wonder if Paul is making reference to a specific group in Galatia rather than all Jews in that passage and in his references throughout Galatians. I’m going to argue in my paper that this is what he’s doing. I’m always up for coffee and certainly for a visit to Ulster!

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