Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles AND Jews?

Every now and then I turn to an issue that has continued to fascinate me, namely, Paul's missional work among Jews. Martin Hengel wrote: “It was never possible to draw a neat division between mission to the Gentiles and mission to the Jews in the church”.[1] I think this is entirely correct. Yes, Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, nations, Greeks, uncircumcised, those-without-law, and idol worshippers (1 Cor 9.21; Gal 2.7-9; Rom 11:13; 1 Thess 1:9, etc.). But he sure spent a lot of time in synagogues according to Acts and he mentions Jewish evangelism in 1 Cor 9:20 and Rom 10:14-14. Note also how Paul describes his apostolate as beginning from Jerusalem as far around as Illycrium (Rom. 15.19) - what Gentiles did he proclaim the gospel to in Jerusalem? If Paul was intent on heading to Spain, maybe he was influenced by Isa 66.19-20 which depicts Jews and Gentiles as journeying from there to Jerusalem in order to share in the new creation. Anyway, my part-time research project (beyond 1 Esdras at the moment) consists of looking at evidence for Paul as Apostle to the Jews among the nations.

[1] Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, 154.


Joshua Mann said...

I wonder how the distinctions here might be oriented to geography (i.e., 'nations' implies extensive travel and inclusion primarily, not exclusion of Jews). Looking forward to your research!

Jim said...


Two quick comments. First, take a look at the work of W. Paul Bowers ("Jewish Communities in Spain in the Time of Paul the Apostle" JTS 26/2 [1975]: 395-402). Paul demonstrates that there were no known Jews in Spain in Paul's time. Second, take a look at, "The Jewish Context of Paul's Gentile Mission" (Tyndale Bulletin 58.1 [2007]: 101–116). This piece lays some of the groundwork for dismantling the hard and fast distinctions scholars make between Paul's mission to the gentiles and Judaism.

Jim Miller

Michael J. Gorman said...

"Among the Gentiles/nations" is precisely the term I have used. If Paul did not engage in mission activity with Jews, (1) why does he promote Jewish-Gentile unity in his communities; (2) why is he punished by Jewish officials (2 Cor 11:24); and (3) why is he in agony over his fellow Jews' refusal to heed the gospel? These questions alone do not settle the case, but they do make a Gentile-only case harder.

Michael Barber said...

Also check out Acts 9: "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel ..." (Acts 9:15).

I think it is important here to recognize that Paul specifically describes his mission by using not just the term "Jew" but "Israel" in Romans 9-11. I've already discussed this at length here.. I'd love to get your thoughts. Suffice it to say, I think Paul goes to the Gentiles because he links his missionary activity in Gentile territory with his hope for the restoration of the twelve tribes, who were scattered among the nations. That may sound far-fetched, but have a look at that link.

Paul W said...


You may want to have a look at Rodney Stark's evidence in Cities of God that the apostle Paul mostly converted Jews. The relevant chapter is 'Paul and the Mission to the Hellenised Jews'.

Michael F. Bird said...

Jim and Paul,
Thanks for that. As it is I have the article/book on hand, so thanks for that.

Jim said...

Michael (Barber; not one of you other 'Michaels') gets to the crux of the matter: Paul's gentile mission was connected to his hopes for the restoration of Israel. Can we get more "Michaels" contributing to the blog?

Jim Miller