A Thoroughly Jewish Gospel: Rethinking Paul’s Righteousness, Christ-faith, and Works of the Law from within Judaism
For centuries, interpreters of Paul’s epistles have assumed that his faith in Christ led him to break with Judaism in order to adhere to a faith that stood in opposition to it, namely, Christianity. When we examine the gospel Paul proclaimed from within the Judaism of his day, however, it becomes clear that, rather than representing a rejection of Judaism, that gospel expresses beliefs and hopes that are thoroughly Jewish.
Although Paul addressed his Epistle to the Romans primarily to the gentile believers in Christ who were in Rome, the primary purpose of his letter was to demonstrate to the Jewish believers who would also read it or hear it read that the gospel he proclaimed did not disparage Judaism and the Mosaic law but upheld the value of all that his fellow Jews regarded as sacred. In this way, he hoped to allay any concerns they might have over his visit and gain their support for the work he intended to carry out in Spain.
What led Jesus to embark on his final and fatal trip to Jerusalem? When we look to the nature of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee rather than to some theory of atonement to answer that question, we find good reasons for concluding that Jesus realized that only by going to Jerusalem could the objectives he had been pursuing throughout his ministry be accomplished in the way he desired. While the price he would pay for going to Jerusalem would be that of his life, from his perspective the price he would pay if he avoided Jerusalem would be even greater.
The work of Neil Elliot has opened the eyes of many to a Paul whose gospel was profoundly liberating in the social, political, and religious contexts of his day. While in many ways Neil captures well the significance Paul ascribed to Jesus’ death, however, at times he continues to ascribe to Paul many of the traditional interpretations of Jesus’ death from which both Paul and Christians in general need to be liberated.
What happens when we read Paul’s exhortation to be subject to the authorities in Romans 13 as some good advice that he wishes to give to the believers in Rome rather than an eternally valid divine mandate that applies to Christians of all times and places? This “paraphrase” of his words in that chapter explores that possibility in a very down-to-earth way.
Did Paul and Luther proclaim the same gospel? Although Luther’s understanding of the work of Christ reflects some ideas that are foreign to Paul’s thought, both agree on the heart of the gospel, namely, that justification is by faith alone, since “faith alone fulfills the law.” In Christ God graciously accepts sinners just as they are, so that as they live out of faith, trusting solely in God for forgiveness and new life, they may become the righteous people God desires that they be, not for God’s sake, but for theirs.
Rather than leading him to abandon or reject his Jewish tradition, Paul’s belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God led him to redefine and resignify around Jesus his understanding of Judaism and the God of Israel. When Paul’s letters are read from within the Judaism of his day, both the newness of the gospel he proclaimed and its thoroughly Jewish nature become evident. Read here the full summary, chapter by chapter.
This two-volume work offers a rereading of the passages from the New Testament and other early Christian writings that ascribe saving significance to Jesus’ death on the basis of an in-depth study of second-temple Jewish thought regarding atonement, sacrifice, suffering, and death. Read here the full summary, chapter by chapter.