Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Paul was not a Christian (contd.)

Yesterday's NY Times contained a post arguing for a more Jewish interpretation of Paul and referencing an article in the Tablet from November. Actually, this isn't a new idea but rather an old idea with new adherents. In 1977, for example, Krister Stendahl in his book Paul Among the Jews and Gentiles argued that Paul was called not converted.

Today's Religion Dispatches contains a post by Pamela Eisenbaum, author of Paul Was Not A Christian setting out a description of Paul in the context of Judaism. For example, she proposes that we understand justification by faith not as a principle of individual salvation but as a description of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles:

Paul’s condemnations of “justification by works” were condemnations of Jewish Jesus-followers who saw the special laws of Torah observance (Sabbath, dietary laws) in elitist and exclusivist terms, and who were trying to impose those laws on Gentile Jesus-followers as a condition for membership in the Christian community. Paul’s argument with them was that Gentiles did not need to turn themselves into Jews in order to enjoy divine favor. The death and resurrection of Jesus had broken down the barriers that Jewish law had created between Jews and Gentiles.

Paul's call was a mission to the Gentiles. This means Jesus is not the universal means to salvation. Jesus saves, but he only saves Gentiles. Paul wasn’t worried about Jews—they were taken care of because they had an eternal covenant with God in the Torah.

So what about Israel? When Paul says “all Israel will be saved,” he doesn’t mean that all Israel will convert to Christianity—Christianity as a religion hadn’t even been invented yet anyway. He means all Jews and Gentiles will be part of the family of God. This is a challenging and even inspiring vision in which difference is affirmed rather than eradicated.

3 comments:

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beowulf2k8 said...

Acts 26:28 "Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." Why would a non-Christian be doing that I wonder? And all that preaching about Christ and him crucified, that proves that Paul was really a Buddhist. Yep, makes perfect sense now. Maybe Paul was an atheist and that's why he's always saying stuff like "Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ."

(And I though I had some strange theories about Paul. This takes the cake, then sits on the cake. Then eats it anyway.)