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Paul to Jews and Gentiles

Paul to Jews and Gentiles

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Published by: michael.bird on Sep 28, 2009
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Michael F. BirdHighland Theological College/UHI Millennium InstituteDingwall, ScotlandThe Apostle Paul has been a common subject of Christian artfeaturing in icons, mosaics, sculptures, and paintings. In particularartistic representations of Paul have focused on his Damascus roadchristophany such as Caravaggio’s two paintings of the event
TheConversion of Saint Paul
(1600/1601) and
The Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus
(1601). Or else he’s depicted as thegraying old man at the writing desk such as Rembrandt’s
The Apostle St Paul
One of the most popular artistic depictionsof Paul, if the dust covers of modern books on Paul are anything togo by, is of course Raffaello Santi’s
Paul Preaching in Athens
 (1515-16). It is so popular precisely because it depicts Paul doingexactly what he is most remembered for: preaching to the Gentilesas the Apostle to the Gentiles. The description of Paul in theAreopagus in Acts 17:22-34 conjures up images of Paul as the learned Christian oratorpreaching the gospel to Greeks in Athens. Yet, in Luke’s actual narrative, Paul begins hisministry in Athens, in the seat of Greek philosophy and pagan idolatry, not among theEpicurean and Stoic philosophers (17:18), but with the Jews and God-worshippers in thesynagogue (17:16). While Luke skirts over this event in the lead-up to Paul’s speech in theAreopagus, Paul’s ministry to the Jews in Athens is not insignificant because it conforms toLuke’s overall literary pattern of Paul as the Apostle to Gentiles
Jews.Even though Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles has dominated the Christianimagination, recognition of Paul as the Apostle to the Jews has not entirely evaded readers of the Pauline letters and Acts either. The Byzantine mosaic
St. Paul Preaches in the Synagogueto the Jews
(ca. 1180) of Duomo, Monreale, Sicily in the adjacent inset is a pleasant reminderof the more dynamic nature of Paul’s missionary work among Gentiles
Jews. Thatcomports with the Lucan Paul who normally commence his evangelistic endeavours in a newterritory by addressing Jews and Greeks in the synagogue. One might object that Paul’s ownrepresentation of himself in his letters it that of Apostle to the Gentiles and not to the Jewsgiven the demarcation of jurisdiction between himself and Cephas in Gal 2:7-9 (see table 1 atthe end of this essay). However, observe Tertullian’s summary of the event: “Then, at last,having conferred with the primitive authors, and having agreed with them touching the ruleof faith, they joined hands in fellowship, and divided their labours thenceforth in the office of preaching the gospel, so that they were to go to the Jews, and
St. Paul to the Jews and theGentiles
” (Tertullian,
. 4.2). Obviously Tertullian is anachronistic in his referenceto the “rule of faith” and he smoothes over the clear frictions at the Jerusalem meeting.However, I would not dismiss Tertullian’s remark as merely a harmonization of Gal 2:1-10with the Paul of Acts because there remains credible grounds for seeing the Jews of theDiaspora as having a key place in Paul’s apostolate to the Gentiles.Although the notion of Jewish evangelism (ancient or modern) is something of anembarrassment to recent interpreters of Paul and Luke, the purpose of this study is toestablish that Paul was an Apostle to Gentiles and Jews in the Roman Mediterranean. Themanner in which this will be achieved is by: (1) demonstrating the malleable nature of theterms
, and
in the context of studies on ethnicityand religious identity; and (2) describing literary evidence from Paul’s letters and the Acts of 
2the Apostles for Paul’s evangelistic activities among Jews. That will, I hope, illuminate theplace of the
in Paul’s apostolate to the
If Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles, Greeks, and the uncircumcised, exactly who are thesepeople and can they be absolutely distinguished from Jews? I am going to suggest that someof these designations for Gentiles are somewhat more flexible than is often recognized andthat ethnic labels can be embedded with particularized socio-religious connotations beyondpurely ethnic and tribal affiliations. I shall do this by examining the standard terms for non-Jews in Paul’s letters.(1) The
(“Gentile”, “nation”) refers to “a body of persons united by kinship,culture, and common traditions”.
In Jewish tradition this refers principally to a foreignpeople signified by
in the Hebrew Bible. This is clearly the linguistic background thatPaul shares as he knows of the
as distinct from Jews (Rom 3:29; 9:24; 11:13-15; 15:8-10; 1 Cor 1:23; Gal 2:15; 1 Thess 2:16). Paul evidently regards “Greeks” and “Barbarians” astwo distinct sub-classes of the
as well (Rom 1:13-14). In a complex web of intertexualargumentation, Paul asserts that it had always been God’s aim to bring the
into thefamily of Abraham (Rom 4:17-18; 15:8-12; Gal 3:6-14). In some cases, the
havereceived salvation ahead of (not instead of!) Israel (Rom 9:30; 10:19; 11:11-13, 25-26). Therelationship of Jesus-believers of non-Jewish descent to the
is ambivalent as they areclearly from the
(Rom 16:4; Gal 2:12) and yet they are now called to live apart from theethos of the
(1 Cor 5:1; 12:2; 1 Thess 4:5; Eph 4:17).However, it remains interesting that when Paul describes the breadth of his apostolateto the
in Rom 15:15-20 that he defines it geographically. Paul’s priestly service of presenting the Gentiles as an offering to God (Rom 15:16) had its beginnings in Jerusalemaccording to Rom 15:19: “by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the goodnews of Christ.” Most probably Paul’s earlier preaching in Jerusalem reflects a prior periodof his ministry that included Jews (see Gal 1:18-19; Acts 9:26-29) and yet it stands in organicunity with his current array of missionary activities that include testifying in Jerusalem,coming to Rome, and going on to Spain. In fact, Paul’s desire to go to Spain (Rom 15:22-25,28) might imply that he was influenced by Isa 66:19 (Tarshish = Spain) as defining his role indeclaring God’s glory to
 Jews and Gentiles
among the nations as part of the Isaianic script forthe end of Israel’s exile and the beginning of the new creation.
Paul is sent to the provincesof the
to herald the gospel of Christ and the ethnic and tribal constitution of his audiencedoes not seem to matter all that much. Perhaps the central feature of 
is the “where” notthe “who” (although obviously it is non-Jews who would be the majority in such a locale).This can be reinforced by reference to Rom 1:5, where Paul mentions Jesus Christ asthe one, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedienceof faith
for the sake of his name”. The questions are whether: (a)
 here should be translated as “Gentiles” (excluding Jews) or “nations” (including DiasporaJews); and (b) if the dative prepositional phrase
is telic (“to all the
BDAG, 276.
Cf. Rainer Riesner,
Paul’s Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology
(trans. Doug Stott; GrandRapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 245-53, 305-6.
3Gentiles/nations”) or locative (“among all the Gentiles/nations”).
While virtually alltranslations accept the locative sense (e.g., NRSV, NIV, NJB, ESV, etc.), most commentatorsresist the notion that Paul’s apostolate is oriented towards a geographical signifer of the“nations” rather than simply to non-Jewish “Gentiles”.
Yet why is “among the nations” anillegitimate framework for Paul’s mission? Paul can switch from
as non-Jewishindividuals (Rom 2:14, 16; cf. Gal 2:12), to the “nations” who are distinct from national“Israel” in Romans 9-11, 15. Clearly in Rom 15:15-20 Paul is thinking of “nations” ratherthan of non-Jewish individuals, because his mission in the east can only be “finished” if thesense that he has preached in all of the territories of that region and not in the sense that hehas converted all individual Gentiles.
Also, including the Diasporan Jews within thisapostolic remit is hardly incredulous when the gospel is for the “Jew first” in Rom 1:16, Paulknows of a remnant of Jewish believers in Rom 9:24-29, a continuing Jewish mission isimplied in Rom 10:12-21, the hope for Israel’s salvation emerges climactically in Rom 11:26-32, a list of Jewish Christian friends and colleagues is supplied in Rom 16:1-16, and Romansis filled with Paul’s concerted effort to assuage explicitly Jewish objections to his gospel andmessage? On top of that, Luke presents James informing Paul that the Jewish anger at him iscaused by the perception that “you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles/nations (
) to forsake Moses” (Acts 21:19-21). The similarities in the phrasing betweenRom 1:5 and Acts 21:19 are remarkable. However apologetically contrived the Lucanaccount may be, and regardless of whether
specifies “Gentiles” or “nations” at this point,Luke asserts that the Pauline mission in the geographical territory of non-Jews encompassedJewish groups as well.
In sum, if the preceding analysis about the geopolitical frame of Paul’s apostolate is correct and if the implied reference to “nations” in Rom 1:5 and Acts21:19 hold firm, then Paul the apostle to the
understood his missionary work to consistof the announcement and persuasion of all people that Israel’s God’s has disclosed hissalvation through Jesus Christ for Greeks, Barbarians, and Jews
among the nations
Cf. discussion in Theodor Zahn,
 Der Brief des Paulus an die Römer 
(KNT; Leipzig, Deichert, 1910), 47; OttoMichel,
 Der Brief an die Römer 
(14th ed.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978), 76; Rick Strelan,
Paul, Artemis, and the Jews in Ephesus
(BZNW 80: Walter de Gruyter, 1996), 303-6.
Cf., e.g., James D. G. Dunn (
 Romans 1 – 8
[WBC; Dallas, TX: Word, 1988], 18): “(
certainly means‘the Gentiles’ (and not ‘the nations’ including the Jews)”; Robert Jewett (
[Herm.; Minneapolis:Fortress, 2007], 111): “This [i.e., meaning of ‘nations’] seems highly unlikely in view of Paul’s description of his calling to be an apostle to the ‘Gentiles’ (Gal 1:16; 2:8) and also in view of Paul’s purpose in writing hisletter, namely, the mission to Spain, where there were yet no Jewish settlements.” See in contrast Don B.Garlington (
‘The Obedience of Faith’: A Pauline Phrase in Historical Context 
[WUNT 2.38; Tübingen:Mohr/Siebeck, 1991], 234) who thinks that
includes “Jews” and J.M. Scott (
Paul and the Nations: TheOld Testament and Jewish Background on Paul’s Mission to the Nations with Special Reference to the Destination of Galatians
[WUNT 84; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1995], esp. 27-61) focuses on “nations” ratherthan “Gentiles” and proposes that Paul was influenced by the “table of nations” in Genesis 10 and 1 Chronicles1:1–2:2. Ksenija Magda (“Unity as a Prerequisite for a Christian Mission: A Missional Reading of Rom 15:1-12,”
2 [2008]: 47) writes: “It is much more plausible to believe that he uses the term neutrally anduniversally, i.e. in most cases it should include the Jews” (see further his
Paul's Territoriality and MissionStrategy: Searching for the Geographical Awareness Paradigm Behind Romans
[WUNT 2.266; Tübingen:Mohr/Siebeck, 2009]).
Cf. Donaldson,
, 361n15; Johannes Munck,
Paul and the Salvation of Mankind 
(London: SCM, 1959), 52-55.
It is likely that James’ words convey a false accusation against Paul from Jewish critics, specifically, that “youteach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise theirchildren or observe the customs”. An allegation that is false of both the Paul of the Epistles and the Paul of acts.Undoubtedly though, regardless of the historicity of Luke’s reporting of James’ words, that Paul was “teaching”Jews and that he held controversial views on “law” and “circumcision” can be taken as historical, and therefore,so can Jewish reservations about his ministry.

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