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Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity

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This free eBook provides the cultural contexts for the theology of Paul, the apostle who shaped the beginning of Christianity

Learn how Jewish traditions and law extended into early Christianity through Paul’s dual roles as a Christian missionary and a Pharisee.

In this latest publication from BAS, top Biblical scholars examine the controversial role of Jewish law and tradition in early Christianity. While Christianity was open to both Jews and Gentiles, some contended that converts had to first become Jews in order to become Christians. Others considered the outward signs of Judaism to be unnecessary for Christian life.

Paul, the apostle who wrote much of the New Testament, discussed the role of Judaism among Jesus’ followers in a number of his letters. Although Paul preached justification on the basis of faith in Christ, he was himself a Pharisee and addressed the role of Jewish traditions and the status of Israel in the new covenant.

This eBook considers the relevant writings of Paul and brings to light some of the difficult theological issues for Jews and Christians that persist to this day. The three-article collection drawn from Biblical Archaeology Review and Bible Review consists of the following:

Chapter One

Pauls Contradictions

“Paul’s Contradictions: Can They Be Resolved?” by Princeton professor John G. Gager looks at how Paul seems to be at war with himself on the subject of Israel. Is there a way out of his contradictions? Yes, the author argues, but only if we first get past misconceptions about Paul that date to the earliest stages of Christianity—even to Paul’s own times.

Chapter Two


“Laying Down the Law: A response to John Gager” by Ben Witherington, III, professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, explores whether Paul preached the gospel of Jesus Christ for Christians alone—as John G. Gager proposed in Bible Review—or whether his message was intended for both Jews and Christians.

Chapter Three


“Paul, ‘Works of the Law’ and MMT,” by Martin Abegg, professor and codirector of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University, Canada, examines how the Dead Sea Scroll known as MMT is valuable in helping us to understand the theology of Paul. Abegg suggests MMT may represent—for the first time—the “works of the Law” decried by Paul in his letters to the Romans and Galatians.

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  1. Chris says

    I appreciate the find that Paul Abegg made in MMT: “works of the law” links to MMT via LXX/MT.

    There’s one thing, though, I wish these researchers would do:

    Stick to the facts, and not be so quick to jump to unfounded theological conclusions.
    I refer to his ‘interpretation’ of Paul’s “works of the law” in terms of modern evangelical, post-reformation theology.

    From my perspective, the error in the interpretation lies in Christian writers’ thinking that Paul is writing from a “religious” perspective. I wish they would begin to properly view the entire Bible as a book of POLITICS & LAW, and forget about “religion”. Modern industrial-military governments may hold to a legal policy of “separation of church and state” (which means taking morality out of government!), but 2nd Temple Israel certainly did not hold to such a ‘doctrine’. Paul was writing as a former government officer, and he was writing “legal opinion”. For a better look at some if Paul’s connects to law, read Peter Tomson’s book, “Paul and the Law: Halakah in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles”. Pay attention to the statements about “anti-idolatry halakah” in 1 Corinthians. Then consider the term “halakah” (from HLK in Hebrew) and Paul’s profuse use of the term “peripateo” (in Greek). There you have the “law” nexus in Pau. Simple for even a child to see.

    Viewing Paul in that light casts a very different shadow on the meaning of “works of the law” in Paul. In Abegg’s words, the resulting “theology” would be truly “revolutionary”, b/c it would apply today to the all our industrial-military nation’s oppressive, over-reaching, administrative government systems. Imagine the result of all western Christendom saying “no” to administrative government meddling in their private affairs?

    Just something to think about before all accounts are settled by the coming Prince as his 2nd advent … Chris

  2. Chris says

    I enjoyed reading Gager and Witherington.

    From my perspective, Gager makes a very good point in saying that 20 centuries of “theology” (re: theologians and scholars) are wrong. I agree. This is a simple matter of POLITICAL CORRUPTION, and lack of manliness in males (re: compromising ethics/morals for $, position, emotion, etc.). However, Gager makes a few glaring errors, which he obviously adopted from the “Jews”, probably for political reasons.

    IMO, Witherington addresses Gager’s “theological” shortcoming, which is Gager’s promotion of the old worn-out Jewish idea that God requires gentiles to obey a different law than He requires of Jews. That is very old “rabbinic” ideology, and is opposed to the apostolic teachings.

    Peter Tomson offers a viable solution to the apparent “contradictions” in Paul in his book , “Paul and the Law: Halakah in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles”. The part that’s worth reading is his chapter on anti-idolatry halakah in 1 Corinthians. He too makes the error of an apologist for the Jewish/Gentile tensions, by compromising Biblical truth. Also, it’s puzzling that he failed to address the term “halakah” in it’s NT Pauline Greek synonym “peripateo”.

    In any case, Tomson’s solution to the Pauline “contradictions” is that Paul used 2nd Temple halakah when necessary to make relations btw Jews and gentiles amicable in the “church”, so that neither would case the other to violate their knowledge of righteousness, which would case them to sin. It was a matter of community relations. Even without knowing about “Jewish halakah”, the Biblical text clearly reveals that community relations is the obvious issue w/Paul most of the time, when he is not otherwise dealing w/political attacks from Israeli bureaucrats.

    Witherington is obviously correct when he says:

    “Paul does not believe that Jews will be justified one way and gentiles
    another: He believes they will both be justified by a saving faith in the one
    Messiah for both Jews and gentiles, Jesus of Nazareth.”

    He does a very nice job of laying out the supporting texts for his assertion, and they are convincing, b/c they are supported by categorical textual evidence.

    Unfortuntely, I feel that Witherington drops the ball when he says this:

    “Paul believed it was time to lay down the Law and to take up the gospel,
    not because no good or grace could be found in the Law, but because the good
    and grace found in Christ was greater still.”

    By not quantifying what he means by “the Law”, “the gospel”, and “grace”, Witherington fails to give his assertion meaning, and is therefore not convincing.

    Romans clearly shows that Paul NEVER “laid down the Law”. Instead, he promoted membership in God’s kingdom IN CHRIST instead of citizenship in 2nd Temple Israeli HUMAN JURISDICTION. Both are based on Mosaic law. The former is predicated on a different administration: the indwelling Holy Spirit teacher and apostolic commandments/halakah; whereas the latter is steeped in legislative halakah and elaborate and expensive government proceedings.

    Basically, Paul was finished w/political corruption, legal injustice, and oppressive government. That’s the bane of ALL human government systems. Today’s America is a perfect example of this. Paul was “laying down human government”, which happened to be 2nd Temple Israel at the time of his writing. However, Paul NEVER “laid down the [Mosaic] Law”, as is obvoiusly evidenced in the beginning chapters of Romans.

    So, what did Paul actually promote?

    Paul “preached” citizenship in God’s government “in Christ”, instead of citizenship in 2nd Temple Israel.

    “The gospel” was the message of citizenship in “the body of Christ” where all the life-giving blessings resided. The alternative was citizenship in 2nd Temple Israel, where taxation and oppression ruled the day (“They tie up loads upon your backs, and are unwilling to lift a pinky finger to help.” – a reference to legal burdens). Bad government is ALWAYS bad for good people who obey God’s Law. Good government is good ONLY for those who love God and obey His Law. Those are sacred propositions. That was the heart of Paul’s message. He promoted “good government for the righteous” b/c they were in God’s jurisdiction via Christ.

    The “grace” piece of this equation is:
    1. Christ’s redemption and current advocacy,
    2. The 4 offices in the communities/body of Christ (Eph 4),
    3. The H.S. gifts,
    4. Possession of God’s Law,
    5. The indwelling H.S.,
    6. God’s promise of “the inheritance”,
    7. The community “fellowship of believers”.

    Let me reiterate what I’ve been saying for many years:

    The ONLY way to understand the entire Bible, is to look at it from a POLITICAL & LEGAL viewpoint. Only then can we understand the issues. That is why the anti-idolatry halakah section of Peter Tomson’s book is such a good read. Once a person sees the actual law involved, he begins to form the correct picture in his mind about the historical setting and the real-life issues. Apart from reality, the text is nothing more than mental fantasy which “scholars” and “theologians” invent in order to collect a paycheck and receive accolades.

    The best starting point to understand THE FUNDAMENTAL element about “government” is Frederick Bastiat’s, “The Law” (http://bastiat.org/en/the_law.html). Until Christians understand from a pragmatic perspect that the ONLY purpose for “the law” is DESTRUCTION, they will never understand Paul. Nor will they understand the rest of the Bible. The KEY to distinguishing between God’s kingdom in Christ and ALL OTHER HUMAN GOVERNMENT SYSTEMS is understanding that single point: “The law” can only DESTROY.

    Paul treats that subject in 2 Cor 3, calling it “the ministry of death engraved on stone”. In contrast to “the law” is “the ministry of the Spirit”, or God’s kingdom in Christ. What proves his point that 2nd Temple – and all other human governments – are destructive, and God’s kingdom is “life-giving”? The most notable are “the gifts of the Spirit”. The next is the lack of need for “law enforcement”. The other is the community unity based on proper knowledge of God’s LAW, and on personal and family application of it (= personal/family halakah).

    The difference between human government and God’s kingdom is simple: LAW ENFORCEMENT vs. SELF-REGULATION.

    Thus, the Mosaic law/administration can only condemn (viz., Romans 1-8). The same is true of ALL gentile government systems. Paul’s primary message is FREEDOM FROM HUMAN GOVERNMENT SYSTEMS (1 Ti 1.8-11). That included BOTH 2nd Temple Israel (his national citizenship) AND all gentile governments. Where do you think the “persecution” originated? Out of thin air? Obviously it came down from government bureaucrats. Why? B/c the apostles (and Chrsit) taught the people about the superiority of God’s government system, in contrast to the corruption and oppression of human government systems (“… the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them …”). Paul’s message of “liberty from ‘the law'” was a message telling people that God provided a remedy to get them out from under human government jurisdiction of 2nd Temple Israel, so they could get into God’s jurisdiction in “the body of Christ”. It’s that simple. No more government privacy violations, licensing, registrations, fiat money, wrongful taxation, social welfare, political corruption, etc.

    In God’s jursidiction there is no condemnation (Ro 8.1ff). Why? B/c like in Leviticus, the whole covenant congregation operated on the presumption that each and every person had the intent to know what God’s law was, and to obey it. GOD’S LAW IS QUITE A DIFFERENT THING THAN 2nd TEMPLE HALAKAH. That is where, today, everybody’s ignorance in this matter results in them jumping to unfounded conclusions in their “theology”.

    This information is “law 101″, and Christians are desperately ignorant of these vital ‘teachings’. Why? Look into “The Reese Committee” and see who engineered American thinking and social institutions from the top down. The answer is POLITICAL CORRUPTION via “coin and currency” by those who control the financial systems of this world. Christians and Jews should be the first to object to the slavery involved (violates Le 25), and should, like Paul commanded in Eph 5, be exposing it in every venue, to every person, by every possible means. Yet, they are dull and stupid due to taking the path of least resistance. This should not be.

    Let’s make an effort to look at the Bible from a POLITICAL AND LEGAL viewpoint from now on. And let’s be honest w/the text and its applications, even if doing so will cause us to fear the consequences, were we to put them into action.

    The lake of fire will be populated by “the cowardly” (1st on the list):

    “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”” (Rev 21:8 NAS)

    Let’s not be found by Lord YHWH to be one of them!

  3. billy says

    That which developed into Judaism, what we might think of as Old Testament, was part of the covenant God made with Abraham. The death and resurrection of Christ fulfilled that covenant, and a New Testament was initiated. This time, the temple, or dwelling place of God, is the Christian, his the Holy Spirit, upon accepting Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, Son of the living God. Judaism, nor any if it’s regulations have any bearing on the current status of Gods people, who are spiritual Israel. Paul was a former Pharisee, but certainly renounced his position when he stopped killing Christians and started converting Jews and Gentiles to Jesus. Therefore, the only real position the scriptures take on integrating Jewish laws into the church is to strongly renounce such teaching and refer to the messengers as false teachers. What the Jews were too blind to see then, any are too blind to see now, is that it has always been about spiritual, soulful things, and not religious rules and regulations. One of the biggest transgressions in ancient Judaism was their traditions, and placing then above the Law of God. Much the same as catholic teaching does today. Church tradition carries more weight than scripture in that religion. Humankind tends to always migrate toward being controlled, so it is not surprising history repeats itself. As for any other faith, Jesus himself directly warns that if any other person or power, even from heaven, teaches any other doctrine or gospel than what he taught, to turn away from it. That pretty much hits Islam and Latter Day Saints, Buddhism , etc head on. As a result, it is quite simple. Where Judaism tried to infiltrate the church, the leaders were commanded to run it off. If they didn’t, they no longer held a covenant relationship with the Father, and the Son would deny them

  4. Sonny says

    This article helps me a lot in my Biblical research and expound much of the life of Apostle Paul…

  5. David says

    Billy, you flatter yourself that you know what Jews see and don’t see. If you yourself weren’t blinded by the supercession dogma you’ve been taught, you would understand that Jews are following a law given to them by God Himself, and that we were never authorized to leave it to follow Paul when he founded his own religion. In fact, Deut. 13 specifically says not to. So don’t put yourself above that.

  6. joseph says

    Cris: excellent response
    Billie:: can’t say the same for you.
    1. Paul in no way whatsoever “converted Jews and Gentiles to Christ” I.e. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. 21. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. (‭Acts‬ ‭15‬:‭19-21‬ KJV). VERSE 21 IS A “PROOF TEXT” that SHAUL/PAUL WAS EXERCISING WHAT HE PREACHED IN ROMANS 11——-THE GENTILES WERE GRAFTED INTO ISRAEL. You won’t hear that verse preached because it messes with their greek mindset taught in semminaries.

  7. Rick says

    On 11-18-14 David said that Paul founded his own religion. This is a false statement. Paul preached Yahoshua the Christ and Him crucified, 1 Co 2:2. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Co 2:14. Therefore, you fail to fully appreciate Dt 13 because Paul was not enticing anyone to pursue a foreign god, Paul was explaining more fully the one true God, the One Who gave this command in Dt 13.

  8. Eliezer says

    David nailed it, so I don’t have to repeat it.

  9. charlotte says

    I love learning ancient Hebrew

  10. charlotte says

    I love learning ancient mysteries…I love God with my entire being

  11. David says

    Rick, I’m sure you’re looking at it from a Christian perspective; from a Jewish perspective, worshipping Jesus as a god is definitely a foreign god; likewise, Trinity, original sin, baptism, and many other things are not native to Judaism and therefore foreign. That’s why I say Paul created his own religion, since Jesus, as far as I know, preached none of those things.
    Unless your point is that Judaism and Christianity are identical, it’s a new religion and Deut 13 stands.

  12. Armand says

    I’m with David; I just don’t see Jesus (or James, for that matter) including the Gentiles in his message. Furthermore, a comparison of the messages between Paul & James demonstrates that Paul clearly made up his own message, his own Christ, and his own religion. He made himself an Apostle, (Apostle by birth, no less) and had the temerity to challenge Peter & James on what HE thought the true message of Jesus was. Unmitigated gall in my opinion. He perverted Jesus’ message so much that the Jerusalem church sent out members to stay with Paul & make sure he stayed on message which, of course, he did not. Try Hyam Maccoby’s “Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity,” or James Tabors’ “Jesus & Paul.” Both are awesome accounts of Paul mission and his “creative license” in creating his own “Christianity.” Or, start with the Letter of James in the NT and compare James’ path to salvation (works) to Paul’s (faith alone) and to Jesus’ as well (works.) If you want to be a follower of Jesus, you must embrace Judaism, pure & simple. Jesus was born a Jew, lived his life as a Jew right to the moment of his death, and even may have considered himself Messiah which clearly he could not have assumed that title while relinquishing his Jewish heritage. He would never have abrogated Talmudic Law (“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matt 5:18)

  13. Antonio says

    Come fare per scaricare l’E-Book in italiano?

  14. Larry says

    So, did any of you “experts” actually read the 27 books that make up the “old testament” or the 4 “gospels”? Then read Paul. Then read Peter. Then do it again. Quit bickering and get out and proclaim the Good News!

  15. Sara says

    God’s Law is Universal Law. It took me awhile to figure out, but I would be very interested to get your take on Paul’s life, all his transformations as he became more wise in the Holy Spirit.

  16. Troy says

    Interesting. Most of these comments concerning the Apostle and his extensive knowledge of the law, omits the most essential aspect of Paul’s revelations… The law is spiritual, and this is the only “Way,” in “Truth,” that it could be “kept.” Indeed, the natural aspect of the law, as it pertains to human existence, has already slayed its subjects (let the dead bury their dead). All of these great swelling words of vanity used to explain biblical factsvfrom a theological perspective amounts to nothing more than the vanity of the fleshly mind. (Rom. 7-9; 1 Cor. 2)

    Amazingly obvious is the lack of spiritual discernment people calling themselves “Christians and Jews”….

  17. George says

    Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote as though our Lord was speaking, and particularly in defense of the Gospel. The Gospel presupposes the “righteousness of Christ alone plus nothing.” This must be our interpretive principle for the entire Bible, all 66 books. This being stated, there will be no confusion between Justification and sanctification. Any form of our sanctification in life will never justify, or become a basis for justification. This is what Paul’s message, as has been the message of all believers since the time of Adam. Confusion on this issue arises when our flesh is trying to establish our own “justification” before God.

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