Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why Did Paul Persecute the Church?

On why did Paul persecute the church, here is an idea from Mark Nanos that I think must feature in an answer in some way:

'That policy is the one for which he claims to be persecuted later, namely, for not “still” preaching circumcision of non-Jews (Gal 5:11). While Paul championed this move, he probably did not initiate it. Rather, since before the dramatic revelation of Christ in him and call to bring this message to the nations, he was the most vicious opponent of this policy, it is likely that this policy of including non-Jews as full members was a propositional truth for Christ based groups that predated his change of course. If so, what motivated Paul’s zealous was not a failure by Jewish members of the Christ groups to observe Torah per se. They were observing, for example, Sabbath and dietary customs, and circumcising their sons. At issue was a change of policy based on an alternative interpretation of Torah for defining the inclusion of non-Jews as full and equal members based on the claim that God has in Christ initiated the age to come kingdom with just such expectations for embers of the rest of the nations to join alongside Israel in the worship of the One God'.

Mark Nanos, ‘Paul and Judaism: Why Not Paul's Judaism,’ in Paul Unbound: Other Perspectives on Paul’ in Mark Given, ed. Paul Unbound: Other Perspectives on Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, forthcoming 2009). See an on-line version here.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I really find it hard to read "biblical stories" and give any validity to the message, as they have become distanced to me, because of their "lost meaning".

People come to faith because of certian needs that they have, whether, experiential emotional needs, or intellectual questions. When these answers cease to be meaningful because of personal experience, an enlarged world, or intellectual challenges, then there needs to be a way to re-address how to make meaning of one's faith. And for those who base their "life truth" on an authorial source, such as a text, then Paul went to Arabia to understand his experience and encounter with Stephen.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

But, the same goes for Jesus's and the message that the scribes "constructed" in the text, or for any other reformer of any kind.

Mason said...

Dr. Bird,

Have you read Charles Leiter's Justification and Regeneration? From the excerpt on BTW from Introducing Paul I believe you would really enjoy his insights. I would be glad to send you a copy free if you email me with an address.


Greg Carey said...

I've pondered that verse in Galatians several times, and it does seem to suggest that the problem is including Gentiles sans circumcision.

However, it's extremely difficult to imagine the context in which that problem would surface. This verse, which requires our filling in the blanks, is our only evidence for such a sequence of events.

Mike Bull said...

Typical humanity! When the prophets warned against "intermarriage" with Greek philosophy, Jews were stretching their foreskins.

Then, when the Lord brought to an end the Jew/Gentile bipolarity, they turned circumcision into a "mutilation" (read: prophets of Baal) that again made them unfit to approach the throne.

Michael J. Gorman said...

I make a similar argument in chapter 4 of my new book, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, due out next week from Eerdmans.


Erick White said...


Hey Dr. Bird,

I read a while back that you hear Dr. Carson lecture on Justification for two whole days. Is there any resources on justification that you know of on his part?

Also, do you know his particular view on justification?

Steven Carr said...

I would agree with Michael's analysis.

Why did Paul not persecute Jesus?

Was only the church persecuted, in the mind of Paul?