I’m teaching Galatians this fall and revisiting the relationship of Christianity to Judaism. This letter of Paul has been read in Christian history to entail a rejection of Judaism. I think this is a misreading, but that, of course, demands working through a number of texts.
As it happens, I’ve also just re-read Mark Nanos’s very interesting essay in Four Views on The Apostle Paul. He makes a strategic point regarding Paul’s argument in Romans 3:29-31 (pp. 171-73).
Paul claims that justification before God has no reference to one’s being Jewish or non-Jewish (v. 28) and supports this with the Shema, the central Jewish confession (vv. 29-31).
If Jewish Christians maintain that non-Jews need to believe in Jesus and be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses, then God is not the one true God who rules universally. Salvation is available to all followers of the one true God without regard to ethnicity since God is universal sovereign. He is not merely the God who rules Jews.
Nanos takes Paul’s point a step further. It’s also inappropriate to claim that God is only the God of non-Jews and not the God of Jews. God is the God of Jews and non-Jews, ruling as universal sovereign, so there’s no singular ethnicity that is required.
The payoff for Nanos is that Jews who come to follow Jesus do not need to renounce their being Jewish. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Judaism or with being Jewish. It shouldn’t shock us that the early church (including the apostles, even Paul) participated faithfully in the temple rituals and sacrifices as followers of Jesus, and that this would be their expression of genuine faith in Christ.
Nanos’s essay is a good introduction to a Jewish reading of Paul that will probably challenge the assumptions of many modern Protestant readers of the NT.
3 thoughts on “The God of Jews & Non-Jews”
Gary T. Meadors
Tim, I also think it is significant to note that Paul’s Gentile proclamation (e.g. Acts 17) is a one-to-one analogy with Second Temple Jewish literature when it talks about what Gentiles need to know to be proselytes (e.g. anti-idolatry, monotheism, repentance to an ethic, an eschatological judgment). Paul preached a good Jewish sermon to the Greeks with the addition that Jesus is Messiah (not a Greek to Greek scenario as popularly claimed at times). Again…I think we should expect more continuity than discontinuity between the OT/Jews and NT teaching. Otherwise…God and his teaching is bifurcated (whoops…there’s that word again).
Isn’t Hebrews at least partially requesting believing Jews to stop with the old Judaism rituals? Because they were metaphors for Christ and He’s no longer desirous for them to repeat metaphors when the real Messiah has come?
That’s the common reading, Patrick, but I think it’s more faithfully read as some sort of response to Jewish Christians who have been separated from the temple cult in some way. They are encouraged that what they have (Christ, the church) is the reality and those practices can be left behind. So, not that they need to leave them behind, but that their fellowship with God in Christ isn’t hindered by their absence.