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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 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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  • EDWARD J 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.

    • John says

      You just do not get it, do you David, Paul after his conversion, professed and taught Christianity, or to be a follower of Jesus Christ..You obviously do not believe, that after Jesus’ death, the Mosaic Law was no longer. Read what Jesus said at Matthew 21;42, 43 that the Jews had rejected him, therefore what they had under the Law was gone.
      At Romans 2:28, 29 Paul said that the Jews who believed in the written code, (Law), was not a spiritual Jew……..A spiritual Jew had the teachings of Jesus in his heart…….NOT the Law. Galatians 6:15, 16; Galatians 3:26-29; Acts 4:11, 12; Galatians 3:27-29.
      At Matthew 23:37, 38 Jesus criticises the Jews and tells them that their house, (the Jewish system) is abandoned, or done away with…..they had even persecuted and murdered some of God’s prophets – Just look at the history of the Jewish nation under the Law………the Hebrew scriptures are full of the accounts of how the Israelites failed to keep the Law and chased after foreign gods, etc., etc.
      God forgave them so many times…..but, eventually, God said, ‘enough is enough’ and finished completely with fleshly Israel and the Law……..and set up what Paul called the ‘surpassing way’ of love. 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:4 That’s what Christian life was meant to be; love of God, love of Christ and love of neighbour…….NOT the defunct Law.

  • Sonny says

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

  • 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

  • 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!

  • 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

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