Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Paul as Apostle among the Gentiles

Sometime ago on the Corpus-Paulinum discussion board there was a thread about Bruce Malina and John Pilch's book Social Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul which argues that Paul was not apostle to the Gentiles but to Greek Israelites. I confess that I find it difficult to imagine Paul as anything other than deeply interested in evangelizing Gentiles and protecting the integrity of these Gentile believers as they interacted with Jewish Christians. However, I think Malina and Pilch might actually be onto something.

First, if we define ethne geographically or politically, then Paul could be the apostle among the Gentiles and not just to Gentiles. In fact, this is exactly what Paul says in Rom. 1.5, 'Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.' Viewed this way, Paul is the Apostle to the those who live among the Gentile nations and that could include Jews.

Second, Paul regards the gospel as 'first for the Jew, then for the Gentile' (Rom. 1.16). This might represent a historical or geographical description of how the gospel has spread from Palestine to Rome, it might signify a salvation-historical perspective of how the gospel is now open for Gentiles as well as Jews, or it could represent Paul's own strategy of starting with the Jewish populace in a given city and then moving onto God-fearers and proselytes. At the same time, Paul could actively engage 'pure' pagans through his tent making business. I submit that this comports with the picture of Paul as it occurs in Acts.

Third, in Rom. 10.14-15 Paul arguably justifies a continuing program of Jewish evangelism, 'How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"'. In the midst of Romans 9-11 Paul shows his continuing interest in a Jewish mission.

Fourth, we might add that the term Hellenistes ('Greek') is a slippery one when it comes to the question of whether or not Grecian Jews or Gentile Greeks are meant. The reference to the 'Greeks' in Jn. 7.35, 12.20, Acts 6.1, 9.29, and 11.20 are all disputed. Of course in some cases it is clear that Jews and Greeks are being distinguished (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1). But the question is does Jew mean 'Judean' and does Greek mean 'cultured pagan'? And when and how often are diaspora Jews considered part of the 'Greek' world?

Fifth, it was precisely because Paul was operative in the Jewish sphere that he experienced persecution from his fellow Jews who attempted to prevent his evangelism of Gentiles (1 Thess. 2.15-16) and why he was given the 39 lashes, a standard synagogue punishment, several times (2 Cor. 11.24).

Authors who have taken a similar line include Rick Strelan, Rodney Stark, and of course Bruce Malina/John Pilch.

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