A Case for Enoch

Arguments are sometimes made that one or more ancient Jewish or Christian texts, ultimately omitted from the canons of both faiths, might comfortably belong in the Bible and should be added to it. They point to the fact that many Jewish and Christian texts were considered authoritative prior to the establishment of those canons but were, at the last moment so to speak, left out, sometimes without explanation.

Those Jewish texts now collected as the Apocrypha in some Bibles were ultimately omitted from the Hebrew canon. Yet they were once part of the early Greek Bible. Early Christians relied on the Greek Jewish Bible for centuries until Jerome began to argue that the texts later omitted by the rabbis as they established their Hebrew canon should probably be omitted from the Christian canon as well. And so they were (though Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians continue to regard them as at least deutero-canonical).

The development of the New Testament followed similar lines. A number of early Christian texts were included in the Christian Bible but later removed. A 4th-century Bible, known today as Codex Sinaiticus, included the Christian compositions The Shepherd by Hermas and the Letter of Barnabas. In the 4th century, according to a manuscript known as the Muratorian fragment, other Christians were being warned not to consider The Shepherd canonical. The Muratorian fragment also rejects certain letters attributed to Paul including one to the Laodiceans and one to the Alexandrians. The Apocalypse of Peter, accepted by some early Christians as canonical, was similarly dismissed in this fragment. Fourth-century Egyptian bishop Athanasius even had to write his priests instructing them to refrain from including The Shepherd and also the Didache (“Teaching of the Apostles”) in the church readings.

Once both Hebrew and Christian canons stabilized there seems to have been little appetite to reform either one. As we said, the omitted Greek Jewish texts were preserved for Christian reading as either apocryphal or, in the case of Roman Catholic and Orthodox bibles, deutero-canonical. Rejected Christian texts were generally condemned to the dust heap of history only to be rediscovered in modern times.

One text that was both forgotten by most Jews and Christians after the 4th century and yet continues to be included in one Christian canon is the First Book of Enoch. The Ethiopic Orthodox Church accepts 1 Enoch in its biblical canon. It is fortunate for us that it does because the Ethiopic language version is the only complete version of the text available to us so far. Nevertheless, fragments of most of the work have been discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls indicating that the composition dates from as early as the 3rd century B.C.E. We now know that the entire work was originally composed in Judea in either Hebrew or Aramaic (or both). Let’s take a closer look at 1 Enoch. There is good reason for both Christians and Jews to become familiar with this ancient text. It is one of our earliest representatives of the apocalyptic movement within Judaism. As should also be obvious, apocalyptic beliefs informed nascent Christianity as well.

Continue reading “A Case for Enoch”

A New Look at the Mysterious Intruders in the Letter of Jude

The Letter of Jude, one of the shortest texts of the New Testament and of the entire Christian Bible (25 verses), is often overlooked for devotional reading or relegated to the sidelines when investigating early Christianity. A review of the many commentators on Jude makes the reason for this neglect clear. The letter has been traditionally interpreted as representing a battle of words between competing Christian theologians. The author of Jude brings to the fight a number of literary examples of God’s past punishments of the wicked. But I think the author is reacting more to something that is happening in the church of his addressees and not just arguing Christian doctrine. This little letter gives us an excellent if tiny window into a situation that probably occurred in a number of early churches as the struggle for Jewish versus Gentile control of the congregations grew in intensity.

Let’s dispense with the preliminaries first. The letter’s author self-identifies as Ioudas in Greek, that is, Judas or Judah. The English “Jude” is often preferred as it avoids any association of the author with Judas Iscariot but it likewise hides the author’s connection with Judaism. That is unfortunate. I will identify him as Judah. This Judah was probably meant to be understood as one of Jesus’s brothers (Mark 6:3) whether or not he actually was. In other words, the author may have claimed kinship with Jesus in order to promote his views and establish authority for the letter. I side with those scholars who consider the work a product of the late first or early second century, that is, after the time of the historical Judah. That decision is based on the good Greek grammar of the letter, its use of the word faith (pistis) as a body of beliefs rather than trust in Christ/God, its mention of “our common salvation,” and the representation of the apostles as figures of the past. Be that as it may, its date of origin does not affect our review of the text.

The letter was written by a Jewish follower of Christ. Its intended audience was a Christian church that was predominantly Jewish but had Gentile members as well. These two facts can be deduced from references, some of which are obscure, to Jewish literature both Biblical and pseudepigraphical. Both writer and reader would have had to be familiar with the references for there to have been a profitable exchange of meaning. I propose that the intended readers belonged to a church in the city of Antioch or elsewhere in Syria where Jewish customs prevailed in Christian churches for a long time.

At the outset of the letter, Judah refers to “those who have crept in” to the congregation and made trouble. The identity of these mysterious creepers has occupied scholars of Jude for a long time. I submit that they were not Christians with an alternative Christology (such as Gnosticism) but pagan mystics who were invited into the church, possibly as catechumens or even as authority figures, by some of the Gentile members. But the interlopers had a hidden agenda: they sought to ridicule the beliefs and disrupt the practices of the congregation. Let’s look at the clues.

The author describes the infiltrators as “ungodly” (asebeis; vss 4, 15 [3x], 18). He wrote that they denied Christ (4), committed sexual sins (7-8), indulged in corruption like unreasoning animals (10), were mockers (18), and psychical (natural) rather than spiritual men (19). Judah says they were predestined for judgment (v 4).

In my view, the denial of Christ and the rejection of God (ungodly) both point to pagans. Yet somehow these interlopers were admitted into the congregation. Therefore they may have been accepted provisionally as guests, catechumens, or teachers (vs 4). They have been allowed to participate in the Christian “love feasts” (agapais; vs 12). But Judah implies that their presence profanes the feasts. They were like “hidden reefs” (12), unforeseen and unexpected, upon which the boat of Christian ritual celebration had crashed. Is it possible, as some claim, that intra-Christian antagonisms, enflamed by “false teachers,” are in view? Or is it more likely that an incursion has taken place by mean-spirited outsiders? Given the author’s choice of proof texts used to characterize the wickedness of the interlopers, I think a solid case can be made that they were disingenuous pagans.

The first prooftext is biblical and recalls the rescuing of the Hebrews (by God? by Jesus?) from Egyptian slavery (5). But Judah adds that “[God] in the second place destroyed the ones who did not believe.” Most scholars understand this reference to refer to the destruction of some of the liberated Hebrews due to their unfaithful behavior at the foot of Mount Sinai where Moses received the commandments. But there is another possibility. Judah may be referring to the destruction of pharaoh’s armies in the Red Sea, a miracle of God that saved the Hebrews and destroyed the pagan Egyptian forces (Ex 15:4).

Judah’s next example speaks of the evil angels who once broke out of heaven but now reside in hell (“nether gloom”) awaiting judgment (6). These are demons (Nephilim), probably the ones who fornicated with human women according to Torah (Gen 6:4) and whose demonic roles were elaborated in later Jewish writings (such as 1 Enoch and Jubilees). Jewish speculation considered these fallen angels to be the false gods worshipped by pagans.

Next, Judah makes reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. The interlopers are compared to the residents of these cities who “whored about and went in pursuit of other flesh” (7). Many scholars suggest that the “other flesh” were Lot’s angelic visitors with whom the inhabitants wanted to have sex. But there is Jewish literature from around the time of the Letter of Jude that accuses the residents of Sodom with human sexual misbehavior typical of pagans (see, for example, Philo, On Abraham 26:133-6).

Judah’s three historical examples all seem to point to the punishment of pagans or pagan-style behavior. Judah writes that “in the same way these dreamers [the infiltrators] defile the flesh” (8). Calling them dreamers or visionaries indicates they may have appealed to supernatural authority, divinations, or revelations that called into question the practices and beliefs of the Christians. That they defiled the flesh may mean that they did not observe Jewish restrictions regarding sexual activity.

Judah went on to cite other historical examples with which to compare the intruders and to make his case that whatever the intruders could not understand (e.g., Christian teaching), “they blasphemed” (8). He was making the case that what is impure contaminates what is holy.

First, Judah charges the intruders with “traveling the path of Cain” (11). Cain’s actions brought the denial of God (godlessness) into the world (see Josephus, Antiquities 1:60-61). These interlopers would therefore be considered Cainites, a term later used for gnostic Christian groups who turned Cain into a hero. Despite what some scholars suggest, however, I do not think Gnosticism is in view in the church being addressed.

Judah then charges the intruders with “abandoning themselves to the error of Balaam” (11). Balaam was a pagan seer in the days of the Hebrew invasion of Canaan (Num 22-24). At that time, the fearful Moabite king offered money to Balaam to prophesy against the Hebrews and stop their army’s progress. The charge made by Judah likely reinforces his identification of the interlopers as pagan diviners who, like Balaam, seek to work against God’s purposes.

Finally, Judah refers to the “sedition of Korah” (11). He means, of course, the Korah mentioned in Numbers 16. Korah was snubbed in his efforts to be awarded honors by Moses. His unmet demands for authority led him to recruit members of the tribe of Reuben and others to challenge Moses. God opened up the earth to swallow the leaders of this revolt and sent fire to burn the remaining troublemakers. Those these insurrectionists are not identified as pagans, they do become godless (damned) and profane the holy community.

Judah’s final literary citation comes from the first century BCE apocalyptic work known as First Enoch 1:9 (14-15). In the prophecy chosen by Judah from this pseudepigraphical text, God was expected to bring his holy army in order to defeat ungodliness at the end of days. Again, ungodly means without God—in a Jewish context this refers to those outside the covenant, i.e., pagans. Judah reinforces the prophecy with another made “by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” to the effect that there would be such men as these interlopers who “follow after their own desires for ungodly things” (18).

In summary, someone, probably Gentile Christ-followers, had invited into the church certain pagan mystics who feigned an interest in Christianity but later revealed their true colors. They were only interested in defaming and ridiculing Christ-faith and perhaps taking over the community on behalf of their own theology. The Jewish Judah wrote to the largely Jewish membership of this church and warned them both of the danger such intruders posed and the ultimate fate that awaited the intruders at the judgment (which perhaps attests to the difficulty of removing them). The letter ends by encouraging forgiveness of those of the congregation who had succumbed to doubt. He urges the preservation of their salvation “by seizing them out of the fire” (23). “Have mercy on them in fear,” he wrote, “hating even the inner tunic stained by the flesh” (23).

Did Jews Reject Christ Because His Followers Claimed He Was Divine?

It is a common misunderstanding that Jews rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah because his followers declared that he had been made divine. Quick reflection ought to dispel such a notion. All of Jesus’s early followers were Jews and all of them believed that he was divine. So how could monotheistic Jews make the claim that Jesus resided with God in heaven and still consider themselves Jews?

The answer is that divinity was a much broader concept in the ancient world. The heavens of both pagans and Jews were populated by many divine figures. Among the Romans, a number of chief gods like Jupiter (Zeus), Juno (Hera), Pluto (Hades), and Mars (Ares) populated the celestial realms competing for space with localized, ethnic deities like Isis and Osiris in Egypt, Cybele in Anatolia, and Mithras from Persia. Tribal and clannish gods filled out the ranks of the supernatural along with the daimones, nature gods, and spirits. Even humans could enter the divine realm. Pharaohs were considered gods as were certain Roman emperors.

The Jewish world was little different. Although all Jews recognized YHWH as their chief god, there were divine “sons of God” (Gen 6:2-4; Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7) angels (Gen 1:26, 24:7; Exod 3:2; Num 22; etc.) cherubim (Ezek 10) and seraphim (Isa 6) in the heavens. The Watchers were a special class of angel (1 Enoch 1-36). Satan (Matt 4:10, etc.) and other hostile supernatural forces were acknowledged to exist by the time of Jesus. Mastemah (Book of Jubilees), Belial (Prov 6:12 “adam beli-yaal”), and Asmodeus (Tobit 3:8, 16) joined their ranks. Even humans were acknowledged to become divine. The Torah tells of Enoch who “walked with God, and then he disappeared because God took him away” (Gen 5:24, NET). The historical books of the kings told how “suddenly a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses appeared . . . and Elijah went up to heaven in a windstorm” (2 Kgs 2:11, NET). Later Jewish speculation about Moses concluded that he, too, had become divine probably owing to the Torah’s claim that God “buried him in the land of Moab near Beth Peor, but no one knows his exact burial place to this very day” (Deut 34:6, NET). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were thought to be living in heaven by the time of Jesus. The gospels attest to Jesus’s belief in their divine nature, as well (Mark 9:4, 12:26-27; Luke 16:22).

So, there was no a priori reason why a Jew could not believe that a human had been made divine. That was, after all, the claim made by all his followers. Christ had risen and would come again. Most Jews, however, objected to the idea that Jesus of Nazareth had become divine, not that a human could not ascend to live with God.

Jesus’s followers did not make the claim that the risen Christ was synonymous with YHWH or God the Father. Even the apostle Paul, who some revere as the founder of Christianity, subjugated Christ to God the Father (1 Cor 15:28). But some Jewish believers could go so far as to identify Christ with an integral aspect of God the Father. Take for example the concept of God’s Wisdom.

Paul identified Christ as God’s Wisdom. Wisdom, normally described in feminine terms due to the word’s grammatical gender, was conceived by some as an anthropomorphized expression of, or manifestation of God. Though God’s Wisdom was God’s, she could function independently on God’s behalf. We learn a lot about Wisdom from the Bible (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), as well as from a number of intertestamental Jewish texts (the Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Ben Sira) considered authoritative by many Jews in the Greek-speaking world at the time of Jesus and Paul and now found in the apocryphal or deutero-canonical sections of modern Christian Bibles.

Wisdom was God’s first created entity and assisted God with the creation itself. Wisdom, speaking for herself, proclaimed that . . .

“From eternity I was appointed, from the beginning, from before the world existed . . . When he established the heavens, I was there; when he marked out the horizon over the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above . . . when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him as a master craftsman, and I was his delight day by day, rejoicing before him at all times, rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth, and delighting in its people.” (Prov 8:23-31, NET).

Notice what Paul says about Christ as God’s Wisdom: “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the Wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24, NET) and God “is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us Wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30, NET). Paul called Christ “the Wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory” (1 Cor. 2:7, NET).

Notice how people traditionally had a bad habit of rejecting God’s Wisdom.

Wisdom calls out in the street, she shouts loudly in the plazas; at the head of the noisy streets she calls, in the entrances of the gates in the city she utters her words: “How long will you simpletons love naiveté? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? If only you will respond to my rebuke, then I will pour out my thoughts to you and I will make my words known to you. However, because I called but you refused to listen, because I stretched out my hand but no one paid attention, because you neglected all my advice, and did not comply with my rebuke” (Prov 1:20-25, NET).

This is just how Christ was portrayed in the gospels: rejected yet vindicated by his followers.

“To what then should I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep’ . . .  The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But Wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:31-35, NET).

This is the closest that Jews would come to identifying Jesus Christ with God himself. It is not quite the same as saying that Jesus was one of three persons in the Godhead, as later trinitarian Gentile Christians would creedalize, but it was close. It should cause us to reassess the “high christological” statements made about Christ throughout the New Testament. Perhaps quite a few of them were actually acceptable to many Torah-observant Jews.

Marriage in the New Testament

Modern marriages, especially in the West, are usually a legal affair requiring a license, sometimes a blood test, occasionally pre-nuptial agreements, and offering tax considerations. In addition, many times marriages also involve the services of a religious official combining church (or other religious organization) and state in the recognition of an official arrangement. Dissolution of such an arrangement requires more legal representation, court appearances, judgments, payments, and additional involvement by the secular world. Strangely perhaps, religious officials are rarely involved at this stage.

Marriage in the ancient Roman world during the first-century was quite different. It may help to understand passages in the New Testament that speak about marriage and divorce if we understand what marriage looked like back then.

Strikingly, legally-sanctioned marriages were only an option for citizens of the Roman Empire. Needless to say, as a percentage, few inhabitants of the empire were Roman citizens. Most were Italians and others were dignitaries at the highest levels of society. Legal marriages, or what scholars refer to as licit marriages (which are not quite the same thing), involved the recording of the arrangement by a magistrate. The legal documents sometimes specified the ownership of assets brought to the marriage by either party. Occasionally the contract stipulated legal heirs and how inheritances would be portioned out.

What did the non-Roman-citizens do if they wanted to be married? To answer that, we must first differentiate between Jewish residents of the Empire and non-Jewish, or Gentile, residents. Non-citizen Gentiles could enter into illicit marriages and many did. Illicit is not the same thing as illegal. There was nothing criminal or socially immoral about illicit marriages. They were simply not recorded by a magistrate and hardly ever required any paperwork. A couple decided that they wanted to be married and then conducted themselves that way. Society accepted their decision and treated them as a married couple. If they decided to end the relationship, they just ended it. No messy court battles, legal wrangling or other civil involvement was required. How were the children handled? In licit marriages, the children went with the father. In illicit marriages, they went with the mother.

Continue reading “Marriage in the New Testament”

The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 5)

This running commentary on Galatians demonstrates that Paul remained an observant Jew throughout his life. He neither advocated the abandonment of Judaism or Torah for himself nor for any Jew, whether they believed that Jesus was the Messiah or not. We complete the commentary on Galatians with this final post, picking up with one of Paul’s two major allegories: the allegory of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. It probably doesn’t mean what you were told it meant.

4:22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one [Ishmael] by the slave woman [Hagar, Gen. 16] and the other [Isaac] by the free woman [Sarah, Abraham’s wife, Gen. 17:19]. 23 But one [Ishamel], the son by the slave woman [Hagar], was born by natural descent [sexually], while the other [Isaac], the son by the free woman [Sarah], was born through the promise [i.e., miraculously].

4:24 These things may be treated as an allegory [Paul creates this unique allegory, practicing a Jewish form of exegesis called midrash.], for these women represent two covenants [In accord with Paul’s target audience, this allegory has nothing to do with Jews. These covenants are described in terms of how they affect Gentiles.]. One is from Mount Sinai [where the Torah was given to Moses] bearing children for slavery [Those who refused to follow Torah when it was given, i.e., Gentiles, became slaves of sin and idolatry]; this is Hagar [a pagan/Gentile (Egyptian)]. 25 Now Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children [Once, again, Paul is describing the condemnation of “sinners” (non-covenant people, Gentiles) by Torah. According to Torah, Gentiles are idolaters and slaves to sin and thus condemned for being outside the law. The present Jerusalem is the symbolic seat of the Torah-faith that condemns them.]. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother [Paul said earlier that his Christ-believing Gentiles have become adopted sons and heirs of God. Here he adds that they are also heirs of a new, or spiritual Jerusalem, something many apocalyptic Jews believed would replace the earthly city at the end of the age. In any event, none of this has to do with Jews or the abrogation of any Jewish covenant. The “second covenant,” which Paul does not further describe, is Paul’s new covenant which, as we said before, has to do with the writing of God’s laws on the hearts of his people (including Gentiles – the Spirit will instruct them how.].

4:28 But you, brothers, are children of the promise like Isaac [Again, a reference back to the promise made to Abraham about the nations which Paul links to the promise made about the birth of Isaac. The one reenforces the other as one was fulfilled according to Torah and one is being fulfilled according to Paul. He compares the Christ-believing Gentiles to Isaac: promises made to Abraham about Isaac as well as promises made about the nations both proved true. Paul does not say the Gentiles are Isaac.]. 29 But just as at that time the one born by natural descent [sexually] persecuted the one born according to the Spirit [miraculously], so it is now [Paul means that the Galatian syncretists (see earlier posts on this blog) are like Ishmael, they are “under the law” in the negative way. They remain condemned Gentiles. And they are persecuting the “children of the promise,” that is, those Gentiles loyal to Paul’s gospel. As Paul indicated above, the syncretists were rejecting Paul’s loyal Gentiles for not accepting their religious interpretations.]. 30 But what does the scripture say? “Throw out the slave woman and her son [i.e., throw out the syncretists!], for the son of the slave woman [syncretists] will not share the inheritance with the son” of the free woman [Paul’s loyal, Christ-believing Gentiles]. 31 Therefore, brothers, we [Paul is again speaking inclusively here but would certainly also include himself in this case.] are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman.

5:1 For freedom [from sin and the idolatrous powers] Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery [to sin and the idolatrous powers – Rom. 7:14]. 2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised [as the syncretists were advising along with returning to worshiping their pagan gods], Christ will be of no benefit to you at all [This is a very important statement! On one level Paul is advising his loyal Gentiles not to fall for the syncretistic teaching advocating their circumcision. If they attempt to acquire righteousness by (at least symbolically) converting to Judaism, they will fail because they are not prepared to live the way of life prescribed by Torah (Gal. 5:3). But Paul is also implying, if not outright stating, that Christ’s death is of no benefit to circumcised Jews. This is not a knock on Jews! According to Paul, Christ died for the redemption of the ungodly (Rom. 5:6; see next). Jews have had in place for centuries various means of atonement as provided in Torah. Paul does not mean that Messiah Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah, but that Jews benefit from him in other ways.]! 3 And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law [Exactly! Circumcised Jews do follow the entire Torah, it is a way of life. No one in Galatia seems to have made that point with the Galatians demonstrating that whoever is suggesting Paul’s baptized Gentiles get circumcised was not Jewish.]. 4 You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law [Pay attention here: “You who have been trying to be declared righteous.” These are Gentiles. Jews don’t try to be declared righteous by the law. They are already in a righteous covenant with God and by faith and obedience they remain so] have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace! 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we [Gentiles] wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight [This is not a repudiation of Judaism, Jewish practices, or circumcision for Jews. Paul is adamant, however, that “in Christ” the status of Jews and righteous Gentiles is equal.] —the only thing that matters is faith working through love [Faith matters as much for Jews as for Gentiles. Paul makes this, as well as obedience, the key means for entering the kingdom. See below.].

5:7 You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you! 9 A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise [Paul likes this adage (see also 1 Cor. 5:6). It can mean any number of things. Here he may mean that by staying true to the course Paul put them on, they will bring others to right thinking, even those who have slipped up. Or he may mean that the “one who calls” them (Christ? The Spirit? Paul?) can make all of them righteous.]! 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will accept no other view. But the one who is confusing you [This may just be a rhetorical use of “the one,” a cypher for all those who are misleading his converts but could refer to a single leader of this movement calling for both circumcision and worshiping the idols.] will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. 11 Now, brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted [This is a fascinating line. It seems to imply that Paul once taught that Gentiles must be circumcised in order to be made righteous. By agreeing with that common Jewish belief, he remained immune to persecution from fellow Jews. Now, he teaches that Gentiles need not be circumcised as long as they are “in Christ.” For that, he is persecuted, probably by some Jews who don’t accept Paul’s gospel but also by pagans whose Christ-believing neighbors and family members have entered into a limbo state exclusively worshiping the Jewish God yet without the political cover given by the empire to Jews (after all, they are not circumcised). But these Christ-believing Gentiles also refuse to honor the pagan gods. The syncretists may be advocating a return to honoring the pagan gods and/or circumcision so as to find relief from such persecution.]? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed [According to Paul, it is the death of Christ (“the cross”) that makes salvation without circumcision possible for Gentiles]. 12 I wish those agitators [the syncretists] would go so far as to castrate themselves [Paul is so angry with losing some of his flock that he spews a very troubling invective. Nevertheless, it is good rhetorical strategy.]!

5:13 For you were called to freedom [from sin and condemnation brought about by the law which brings status equality with Jews], brothers; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh [i.e., sin; just because the law no longer condemns you for not being Jewish, you are still called to obedience], but through love serve one another [love will help them obey]. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself” [Supersessionist Christians would like to interpret Paul as saying, “Forget Torah. Just love each other. That’s all you need.” He means no such thing. He is quoting Torah (Lev. 19:18). If Torah was obsolete, this saying would be meaningless.] 15 However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, live by the Spirit [Contrary to some modern, feel-good interpretations of Paul that understand him here as saying “live as the spirit moves you,” Paul is referring to the new covenant in which the Spirit will write the laws of God on the hearts of his people (Jer. 31:33). How do we know? Read on.] and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh [you will not sin]. 17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires [i.e., Torah requirements] that are opposed to the flesh [sin], for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want [Yes, there are restrictions and they are found in Torah]. 18 But if you are led [as in “taught obedience”] by the Spirit, you are not under the law [Remember, this does not mean that the law is obsolete or of no meaning for Gentiles. “Under the law” means condemned by the law. Paul is saying that Gentiles in Christ are no longer under the law’s curse. But they must obey the law as the Spirit directs. He will now cite some Torah rules.]. 19 Now the works of the flesh [sinful, anti-Torah behavior] are obvious: sexual immorality [Ex. 20:14; Dt. 5:18; Hos. 4:2; Dt. 27:20-23; Lev. 18:6-7, 20:14-17], impurity [Ex. 19:6; Lev. 11:45, 18:30, 20:26], depravity [see the former], 20 idolatry [Ex. 20:3-5, 23; Dt. 5:7, 6:14], sorcery [Ex. 22:18; Lev. 19:26-28, 31, 20:6, 27; Dt. 18:11; 1 Sam. 15:23; 1 Chron. 10:13; 2 Chron. 33:6; 2 Kgs. 21:6; Micah 5:12], hostilities, strife, jealousy [Ex. 20:17; Prov. 6:34, 14:30, 27:4], outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions [for these four, see, e.g., Lev. 20:9; Prov. 10:6, 11, 12:18, 15:1, 18:21, 29:22; Dt. 6:4; Psa. 133:1-3; Eccl. 4:9-12], 21 envying [see jealousy], murder [Ex. 20:13, 21:12; Lev. 24:17; Num. 35:31; Dt. 5:17; Prov. 6:16-19; Hos. 4:2], drunkenness [Lev. 10:9; Dt. 21:20; Prov. 20:1, 23:20-21, 29-35], carousing [see drunkenness, sexual immorality], and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! [For all those who would say Paul preaches a law-free gospel, re-read passages like this one (including 1 Cor. 5:11, 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 12:20-21; Rom. 1:29-31; etc.). Paul does indeed hold his Gentiles accountable to the parts of Torah they can obey. While he largely leaves it up to the new covenant Spirit to guide his Gentiles, he is sometimes moved to list some of the laws applicable to Gentiles. For those who say that Paul teaches only the moral provisions of Torah, why does he prohibit idolatry? Sorcery was not unequivocally amoral in the Greco-Roman world. Why are Paul’s rules for sexual morality (1 Cor. 6:9; Rom. 1:26-27) based on Torah rather than the prevailing Greco-Roman sexual mores? The cost of disobedience for violating these laws is the kingdom itself. Faith plus obedience: this is Paul’s Jewish rule for Gentiles.]

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit [meaning that the Spirit will teach them obedience], let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit [that is, the Spirit’s teaching of the law, now written on the hearts of believers]. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another [for Torah’s teaching on jealousy, see above].

6:12 Those who want to make a good showing in external matters [i.e., the syncretists who seemed to have been trying to spare the Christ believers in Galatia from persecution] are trying to force you to be circumcised. They do so only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ [See?]. 13 For those who are circumcised do not obey the law themselves [This indicates that the syncretists are not Jews but Christ-believing Gentiles who espouse a different gospel that includes some Jewish ritual practices, including circumcision, as well as a return to some form of honoring the pagan gods.], but they want you to be circumcised so that they can boast about your flesh [that is, the syncretists can demonstrate that the Christ-believers have been circumcised and so should not be persecuted (by Jews?) but thought of in some way as “Jews”]. 14 But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that matters is a new creation [This line has been interpreted by Christian supersessionists as demonstrating that, according to Paul, being a Jew no longer has any value – Judaism has been replaced. “Don’t be a Jew! Be a ‘new creation’!” That is definitely not what Paul is saying. As he wrote several times before, being “in Christ” gives the same status to a Gentile as that of a Jew when it comes to being righteous before God and entering the kingdom. The Gentiles become a “new creation” in Christ once they are baptized – they are no longer “Gentile sinners.” They become “clothed with Christ” – Gal. 3:27] 16 And all who will behave in accordance with this rule, peace and mercy be on them, and on the Israel of God [Paul prays for peace and mercy on both Christ-believing Gentiles and Israel. Does any more need to be said to defend Paul against baseless accusations of his denunciation of Judaism? Of his supposed anti-Jewish behavior? Of his “law-free” gospel? And, finally, Paul is not saying that Christ-believing Gentiles become Israel and replace Jews. This line of thinking is found absolutely nowhere in the letters of Paul though it quickly arose in early Christianity, sometimes defended by misreading Paul.]

The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 4)

As I indicated in the previous blogs, this running commentary on Galatians is designed to help demonstrate that Paul remained an observant Jew throughout his life. He neither advocated the abandonment of Judaism or Torah for himself nor for any Jew, whether they believed that Jesus was the Messiah or not.

This section of Galatians can be quite dense and requires our full attention to how Paul used the tools of Greco-Roman rhetoric and always remained focused on his intended readers, that is, Gentiles. This section of the letter should leave no doubt that Paul was writing exclusively to Gentiles.

3:16 Now the promises [3:8] were spoken to Abraham and to his seed [Gen. 17:8]. Scripture does not say, “and to the seeds,” referring to many [nations], but “and to your seed,” referring to one [Christ], who is Christ [Some think that Paul is saying that only through Christ may one become an heir to the promises, i.e., excluding Jews. That is nonsense. Paul said the exact opposite earlier. He is making the point here that the promises concerning the nations are not made to the inhabitants of the nations individually or to their leaders but to one Jewish gatekeeper for the nations: Jesus Christ.]. 17 What I am saying is this: The law that came 430 years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise [Get what Paul is saying? One covenant does not invalidate a previous one.]. 18 For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise, but God graciously gave it to Abraham through the promise [Inheriting the benefits of the promise to Abraham concerning the nations does not require Gentiles to get circumcised and become Jews nor is it earned through Judaizing. It is a matter of grace (unearned blessing by God). Paul is not saying that Jews have been disinherited.].

3:19 Why then the law? [Paul begins using the rhetorical technique called the diatribe, an invented conversation between the author and an imaginary interlocutor. The questioner, a Gentile, asks: If inheritance is by the promise, why was the law necessary?] It was added [a covenant made after the one with Abraham] because of transgressions [i.e., human sinfulness], until the arrival of the seed to whom the promise had been made [the seed = Christ. Remember, Paul was writing to Gentiles about their salvation. He was not writing to Jews. Christian interpreters should not keep reading Paul as if he were making universal pronouncements.]. It [the law] was administered through angels by an intermediary [Exodus 3:2 makes it clear that Moses heard God’s voice through an angel. Many Jews believed that no one could come into immediate contact with God. Instead, one would encounter the Angel of the Lord or some other representative of God.]. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one [Paul made this hair-splitting distinction to assure his Galatian Gentiles that, whatever the angel’s intent was, God is fully capable of making the Torah apply however God chooses, whether it is to Jews or Gentiles.]. 21 Is the law therefore opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! [That is why Paul clarifies that the law is not antithetical to the promises: both Jew and Gentile must remain obedient. But the new covenant will write the law on the hearts (minds) of God’s people. They will obey as the Spirit directs.]. For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law [obedience to the law alone does not result in righteousness. Faith and obedience are both necessary ingredients. Gentiles who tried to pursue one without the other failed.]. 22 But the scripture imprisoned everything under sin [the law demonstrated how the world itself was under the power of evil forces (Sin). This is the standard apocalyptic view held by both Jesus and Paul.] so that the promise [Paul is specifically referring to the promise that included the nations] could be given [to redeem Gentiles from their enslavement to Sin] —because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ—to those [Gentiles] who believe.

Continue reading “The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 4)”

The Passion of…Barabbas?

The springtime buds of Easter usually include a temporary bloom of articles and blog posts about the events of Passion Week. Television programs and movies recreate the story in dramatic fashion. And, despite the overwhelming number of retellings and analyses, I would like to add one of my own, from a somewhat different point of view.

Readers may find my reconstruction of the motivations behind the events surrounding the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus to be somewhat speculative. But my hope is that it will stretch your minds as we imagine what took place during that fateful week. Before I begin my reconstruction of events, I want to lay out, from a historical perspective, which events from the gospel stories I consider historically likely and which I do not. These decisions are based on historical criteria that are well-established in New Testament research (the definitions for each appear at the end of this blog post).

It is a near certainty that Jesus was crucified (criterion of multiple attestation). Equally historical is the prefecture of Pontius Pilate (c. m. a.). He was ultimately responsible for sentencing Jesus to death. Likewise, Caiaphas was surely the sitting high priest (c. m. a.). I consider it probable that Jesus was crucified around one of the three pilgrimage festivals in Jerusalem since those were the only times Pilate would normally be present; otherwise he resided at Caesarea on the coast. I think it incredible, however, that Jesus was crucified either on the day of Passover (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) or even the day before (John) (criterion of contextual credibility). Pilate was shrewd as well as brutal. It is inconceivable that he would risk provoking a riot among the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Jewish pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem by ordering a bloody execution of a number of Jewish men on a nationalistic, high holy day. If Jesus was crucified around the time of Passover, it is more likely that Pilate waited to do so until after the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread when the pilgrims would be departing and he himself was preparing to leave Jerusalem.

I consider it quite likely that a disciple of Jesus was involved in the conspiracy that led to Jesus’s arrest (criterion of dissimilarity). I also consider it likely that Peter, who was possibly detained for resisting the arresting party, was nevertheless released after feigning ignorance of Jesus (c. o. d.). It is highly unlikely that any convocation of the Sanhedrin occurred or that Jesus received any hearing before them of the type described in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (c. c. c.). The description of what happened in these gospels violates everything we know about the Sanhedrin and how it operated. Even the high priest would have been sequestered away for weeks to assure his ritual purity to be able to properly officiate at the Passover sacrifices. Caiaphas would hardly have risked coming into contact with a “blasphemer” (Mark 14:64; Matthew 26:65) as the gospels indicate. I do, however, consider likely some involvement by the high priest and some of other the chief priests in the plot to arrest Jesus (c. m. a.). Some scholars object to this notion but my reasons for accepting a modicum of involvement will become clear as we proceed. It also seems likely that Jesus was crucified along with some other Jews (c. m. a.) – how many is irrelevant although I consider the total number of three victims to be symbolic. Finally, although the evidence can go either way, I do consider the presence of the criminal (from the Roman point of view) Barabbas to be historical. Let’s consider that in more detail.

Continue reading “The Passion of…Barabbas?”

The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 3)

We continue here with Part 3 of my running commentary on Galatians, attempting to demonstrate that Paul remained an observant Jew throughout his life. He neither advocated the abandonment of Judaism or Torah for himself nor for any Jew, whether they believed that Jesus was the Messiah or not. We left off with Paul’s account of an earlier conversation with Cephas/Peter in Antioch. We pick up with Paul speaking directly to his Gentile readers in Galatia. He begins now to reiterate the content of his gospel message to Gentiles. This includes condemning as futile the effort of some Gentiles trying to achieve righteousness by acting Jewish, that is, by performing selective works (rules, laws, instructions) of the Torah. Paul also explains why Christ’s death is beneficial for Gentiles. [My comments in brackets in bold.]

Galatians 2:16 (cont.) And we [Paul uses the inclusive “we” – an example of a Greek rhetorical device known as pluralis societatis, the social plural. He does this a number of times in his letters to better identify with his audience in an effort to persuade them. It does not mean that he considers himself a Gentile.] have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we [Gentiles] may be made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be made righteous [This makes perfect sense only in a Gentile context. Jewish faith and obedience include Torah and to suggest that it does not is to misunderstand Paul. Paul professes that the Torah is holy, righteous, spiritual, and good (Rom. 7:12-16). Gentiles, however, must stop “Judaizing,” that is, trying to attain righteousness through selective obedience to Torah’s instructions. It is no longer necessary (nor was it ever effectual, according to Paul) now that Christ has come. Remember, Jews do not have to be “made righteous” or “justified.” Jews are, from infancy, members of a righteous covenant; their obligation is to maintain that righteous status through continuing faith and obedience. Gentile lives are characterized by sin and so they must be “made” righteous (justified) to begin with.]. 17 But if while seeking to be made righteous in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners [Gentiles seeking to be made righteous through Torah discover that they were condemned as sinners by Torah], is Christ then one who encourages sin [What Paul is probably responding to here is the accusation by some (in Galatia?) that by being made righteous in Christ, without becoming Jews, Gentiles were ignoring God’s will as presented in Torah]? Absolutely not! 18 But if I build up again those things I once destroyed, I demonstrate that I am one who breaks God’s law [Paul is reaffirming, using inclusive language (he is not talking about himself), that if the Galatians go back to Judaizing and reject the righteousness made available to them through the faithfulness of Christ, they will be returning to their flawed notion that they can earn righteousness by following a few rules of Torah. Such a process will fail, demonstrating that they are, once again, nothing more than faithless sinners who do not properly live according to Torah]. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God [by living according to the law as the Spirit has directed them (new covenant provision – see below), Gentiles are no longer condemned by the Torah as people who do not adequately live by it. The Spirit makes it possible for Gentiles to live in obedience without becoming Jews.].

Continue reading “The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 3)”

The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 2)

As I indicated in the previous blog, this running commentary on Galatians is designed to demonstrate that Paul remained an observant Jew throughout his life. He neither advocated the abandonment of Judaism or Torah for himself nor for any Jew, whether they believed that Jesus was the Messiah or not. When we left off, Paul had laid out his Jewish credentials and described his call to mission to his pagan converts in the Roman province of Galatia. He hinted that there was someone in Galatia preaching a “different gospel” from his. What that alternative gospel was, he hasn’t yet said. He has been more focused on validating his gospel as the result of divine revelation. We resume our commentary at 2:1 with Paul describing his interactions with the founding apostles of Jerusalem over the nature of Gentile membership in the Kingdom of God.

2:2 Then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas [identified in Acts 4:36 as a Hellenist Jew], taking Titus [identified below as a Christ-believing Gentile] along too. 2 I went there because of a revelation [additional evidence that Paul was a mystic] and presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles [re-read this; his is one form of gospel; it is the one he preaches to Gentiles. It is not one that is preached (by others) to Jews. Thus, there are, as Paul will admit again below, multiple, valid gospels or “good news” messages]. But I did so only in a private meeting with the influential people, to make sure that I was not running—or had not run—in vain [now Paul seems to want apostolic – human – validation for his mission and gospel]. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, although he was a Greek [Paul wants to imply that the main topic of the meeting was whether or not Gentile believers in Christ should be circumcised. However, it remains unclear whether the subject of Gentile redemption from sin without circumcision was raised although such a claim became a hallmark of Paul’s gospel. That Titus was not required to be circumcised was hardly novel – many Gentiles attended Jewish synagogues in the Greco-Roman world without having to be circumcised. It did not imply that attending Gentiles were redeemed from their sins. How the “influential people” regarded uncircumcised Gentiles when it came to entering the Kingdom of God is left unsaid by Paul.]. 4 Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaves [We cannot tell whether the “false brothers” were simply Jews or Christ-believing Jews. Paul says that “this matter” arose – is it the matter of Titus’s circumcision or Gentile circumcision as a whole? And if the “false brothers” insisted on circumcision for Gentiles, then to what end? If it is redemption from sin, then the “false brothers” are likely saying what was obvious to most Jews: if a Gentile male wanted to be in right standing with the God of Israel, he must be circumcised, that is, become Jewish and obey the law. There is no indication here that Paul argued for righteousness for Gentiles absent circumcision. He only says that Titus was not required to be circumcised. What “freedom” did Paul and his people have in Christ that was being threatened by the false brothers? Freedom for Gentiles to join in Christ-believing Jewish gatherings? Neither the freedom to enter the kingdom or freedom from sin is mentioned as part of the argument. And what is the “slavery” that Paul insists the false brothers want to shackle them with? Is it the freedom of Jews and Gentiles to associate together in communion? Paul speaks elsewhere of Gentile slavery to sin (Rom. 7:14). If this is what he means here, then he is saying in the letter that his gospel redeems Gentiles from sin without circumcision. But he is not presenting that as the argument made at the meeting. Yet Paul deftly places this gospel idea alongside the “false brothers’” insistence on Gentile circumcision without ever connecting the two. In any event, Paul is not saying that by getting circumcised and converting to Judaism Gentiles become slaves to Torah.] 5 But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you [Surrender what? By portraying this meeting as a single-topic discussion – whether Gentiles must be circumcised or not – Paul is using the event to support his battle with the opposing teachers in Galatia who advocate circumcision for salvation. Unfortunately for us, he nowhere specifies what impact the false brothers’ insistence on circumcision had on his “truth of the gospel.”].

Continue reading “The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 2)”

The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 1)

The writings of the Apostle Paul are recognized by everyone as of major importance to the origins of Christianity yet his statements can often seem contradictory, confusing, and even impenetrable. This perceptual problem has existed since the earliest centuries of the church when educated Christian theologians wrestled with Paul’s letters often trying to untangle or reinterpret Paul’s meaning for a new generation. Much of this struggle with Paul’s writings, however, derives from a basic misunderstanding of Paul that has by now become common: as a frustrated Jew who came to understand how Judaism had not only failed him but was, in fact, a failed religion and how only Christianity could offer him salvation from his sins and freedom from the Law, a thing Judaism could never do.

After nearly two-thousand years, a growing number of scholars are rising up to challenge this Christian supersessionist model of Paul (supersessionist = the assertion that Christianity supersedes and replaces Judaism as God’s favored religion). These scholars come armed with a much fuller and more sympathetic understanding of first-century Judaism. They study intently how Jewish-pagan relations actually worked in the ancient Roman world. They are beginning to read Paul as he seems to understand himself: as an observant Jew accepting a calling to become a (or the) apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews). Paul’s letters are, in fact, written to this very target audience: non-Jews. The issues he deals with in those letters concern Gentiles and the brand-new offer that he brings to them: to become justified (or, better = to be “made righteous”) before the God of Israel. They can be righteoused so that they, too, might share in the glorious benefits of the coming Kingdom (which Paul believed was due at any moment).

When reading Paul this way, with Judaism and not against it, many seeming inconsistencies and contradictions melt away. There is of course no way to completely understand anyone from remote antiquity whose thoughts are only revealed in a limited number of one-sided correspondences. Yet, it is amazing how well this approach makes intelligible and consistent so much of Paul’s thought. There is perhaps no better (or shorter) way to demonstrate how this works than to take up a very important letter, the one he wrote to the Gentiles in Galatia, and offer a reorienting, running commentary on it.

In the next series of blog posts, I will present the text of Galatians (generally following the New English Translation though modifying the translation where necessary based on an alternative reading of the Greek original) along with intertextual comments in bold and in brackets [] that will help readers come to know Paul as a Jewish apostle to the Gentiles, which is, after all, what he claimed to be. Nearly all of the text of the letter will be presented omitting only some biographical material in chapter 1 and some prayers and good wishes in the closing chapters. We will avoid none of the so-called “difficult” passages. However, one must read this commentary from the beginning in order to understand certain basic concepts that follow throughout the letter, concepts that, due to space limitations, will not be continually repeated throughout (though some will bear repeating).

So, open your minds, put aside everything you thought you knew about Paul, and follow along as the apostle to the Gentiles responds (rather angrily at times) to a problem that has arisen in his community of Gentile converts in the Roman province of Galatia. Some members of that community are accepting if not advocating a change in the way that Christ-believers practice their faith, a change Paul vigorously opposes.

The Letter to the Galatians

1:1 From Paul, an apostle (not from men, nor by human agency [Paul will explain below that he received his “gospel” from a revelation, not from human transmission], but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead) 2 and all the brothers with me, to the churches of Galatia [it is vital for the proper reading of this letter to understand that these churches are composed of Gentiles – everything Paul says in this letter is directed to and about Gentiles – we will demonstrate this as we move along]. 3 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our [Paul uses the inclusive plural (“our,” “we”) many times in this letter in order to rhetorically identify himself with his audience using a common Greek rhetorical device known as pluralis societatis] sins [these are Gentile sins; until now, Gentiles had no access to atonement or redemption – Jews had been provided the means of atonement for sin since the reception of the Torah] to rescue us [inclusive language but meaning the Galatian Gentiles] from this present evil age [a Jewish apocalyptic view that demonic forces were currently in charge of the world] according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever! Amen.

1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you [this could refer to them deserting Paul or the Spirit which Paul says was active in their community] by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel— 7 not that there really is another gospel [Paul initially admits that there are multiple gospels – he will say so again below – but then retracts the statement upon further reflection, perhaps to avoid giving his opponents any credence], but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ [that is, the gospel Paul brought to them]. 8 But even if we (or an angel from heaven [Why an angel of heaven? Many apocalyptic Jews like Paul believed that angels influenced much of human and world activity. Some believed that angels were assigned to oversee the nations and watch over them (c.f. Acts 7:38, 53]) should preach a gospel [here he admits again that there were other gospels] contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! 9 As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received [from Paul], let him be condemned to hell! 10 Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ! [Paul’s audience understood that he was frequently persecuted for his teachings. He would not be so persecuted, he insists, if he taught a more popular gospel. How could it be more popular? Paul will say below that he once taught that Gentiles needed to be circumcised (essentially converting to Judaism) in order to be made righteous. Circumcision was part of what his opponents were advocating, though not, apparently, for full conversion to Judaism. They were advocating this, Paul insists, to line up better with current social expectations (pleasing people). Paul’s teaching counters social expectations: his Gentiles stop worshiping pagan gods in order to exclusively worship the God of Israel yet they do not convert to Judaism. Paul often uses slave language as he does here. Slavery was ubiquitous in the Roman world – the institution touched nearly every soul in some way.]

1:11 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 For I did not receive it or learn it from any human source; instead I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ [In this way, Paul differentiates himself from those who walked with Jesus and taught a “good news” message to other Jews in Palestine. Paul insists that what he teaches did not originate with the historical Jesus or his apostles but came to him via divine revelation. This claim would leave Paul vulnerable to obvious skepticism.].

1:13 For you have heard of my former way of life in Judaism [It is important to read this passage as it is translated here which refers to Paul’s former way of expressing his Judaism. That is, by his zealous claim to understand Jewish faith and follow it better than other Jews. There were many forms and expressions of Judaism at this time. Paul is not saying that he once was a Jew and now he is not.], how I was savagely persecuting the church of God and trying to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my nation, and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors [These words offer a small window into how Paul was expressing his Judaism – he was “advancing,” that is, in knowledge and understanding, more than other Jews that he knew. Paul was zealous, that is, he was forceful in decrying other forms of Judaism than his own. This included that form of Judaism which claimed that the crucified Jesus was the messiah and, most likely, their belief that Gentiles now had some means other than conversion of entering the coming kingdom.]. 15 But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me [Paul was called to a vocation, not “converted” to Christianity, in the same way that the prophets of old were commissioned – Isa. 49:1; Jer. 1:5] by his grace was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles…. [Paul then goes on to say that he did not stop to confer with anyone but traveled about. Nothing in these lines suggests that Paul stopped being Jewish. He came to another understanding of Judaism which required him to stop persecuting at least one form of it, Jewish messianism focused on Jesus. This change came about, he says, as the result of revelation. Such claims identify Paul as an apocalyptic mystic, one who believed in a variety of cosmic beings, divine revelations, and portentous notions of a coming end to the age.]

Come back soon for Part 2!