František Ábel. Editor. The Message of Paul the Apostle Within Second Temple Judaism. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2019. 279 + xi pages. ISBN: 978-1-9787-0612-5. $95.00. Hardback.

Reviews of the Enoch Seminar 2020.09.06

Joshua W. Jipp
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

This edited volume contains twelve essays, most of which originated as conference proceedings (in Bratislava, Slovakia) and designed to introduce the “Paul within Judaism” approach to Protestant theological research in Slovakia. This approach, it is noted, emphasizes “Paul’s gospel … as the beginning of the eschatological time of universal reconciliation—rather than the traditional concept of justification, considered as a radical contradiction between faith and works and thus between Jewishness and Christianity—which should be understood as constituting God’s offer of the salvation to Gentiles, since those non-Jewish nations are the primary addresses of Paul’s message” (p. vii). In its de-centering of justification by faith, emphasis on Paul’s addressing a gentile problem (rather than supposed deficiencies within Judaism), and interpretation of Paul’s letters within Paul’s imminent eschatological expectation, the Paul within Judaism approach often sets itself against both traditional (sometimes called “Lutheran”) and New Perspective readings of Paul.

The essays are divided into two parts. Part I is devoted to “Paul the Apostle in the Context of Complexities and Variedness of Second Temple Judaism.”

Paula Fredriksen leads off with her essay “God is Jewish, but Gentiles Don’t Have to Be.” Paul is ethnically Jewish and shares a particular bond with his own people Israel who are bound together by the God of Israel, the ancestral patriarchs, the covenants and the law, and the temple cult (Rom. 9:4–5). Pagans, however, are sinners by nature since they worship idols and are involved in gross immoral behavior (Rom. 1:18–32; 1 Cor. 6:9–11). Pagans do not convert to Judaism to escape their problem; rather, through God’s Spirit, they are adopted as gentiles into the family of Abraham and are thereby enabled to worship the true God and live morally. Fredriksen emphasizes the ethnic specificity of Paul and Paul’s God precisely because “Paul’s gospel, and Paul’s god were … reformatted to fit the times” (p. 9). In her words, “Gentile Christianities, laying claim to these texts, invest them with new meanings, which are validated precisely by the necessity of reinterpretation brought about by the changing historical and cultural contexts in which they are read” (p. 12). This changing context is primarily that of the failure of the Parousia to materialize and the dominance of gentile Christianity. Thus, Paul the Jew becomes the mouthpiece for Christian theology, something he would have found unimaginable.

Michael Bachmann’s essay “The Anti-Judaic Moment in the ‘Pauline’ Doctrine of Justification” argues against the Protestant faith/works contrast by demonstrating that “works of the law” refers to the entirety of the Torah and its laws with a special emphasis on “boundary markers” between Jews and gentiles. His conclusion: “The anti-Judaic moment in the ‘Pauline’ doctrine of justification must now … be judged as a (Protestant) mis-interpretation of the relevant statements in Paul’s letters” (p. 38).

Shayna Sheinfeld (“From Nomos to Logos”) notes that it is certainly right that Paul is a Torah-observant Jew but that the diversity of thought about the Torah within Second Temple Judaism means more attention is needed to what Jewish authors mean when they speak of the Torah. She looks at Philo, Josephus, 2 Baruch, and 4 Ezra and concludes: “In extant Jewish texts from the first century what it means to be Torah observant is variable and flexible … and often left undefined” (p. 69). Thus, likely Paul’s understanding of the Torah was also flexible and adaptable to varying circumstances. Similarly, Isaac Oliver (“Does Paul Need to be a Covenantal Jew in Order to Be a Jew?”) surveys the diversity of opinions on such matters as Torah-observance and the importance of Sinai even within Jewish writings. He notes that Jewish allegorizes and Hellenistic reformers “can be situated within Judaism just as much as Paul can be reclaimed within Judaism by his ‘radical’ interpreters” (p. 80). Oliver agrees that we must situate Paul within Judaism, but that “Judaism” is more complex and diverse than what is often assumed. He summarizes his essay, then, as “a call to consider carefully all of the possible Jewish intersections in Paul’s thought and person as we try to comprehend better his specific location within Judaism, broadly conceived” (p. 82).

Jörg Frey’s “Paul in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls” can be seen as taking up both Sheinfeld’s and Oliver’s plea to consider Paul in light of all kinds of Jewish voices. Frey notes that many aspects of Paul’s thinking, such as his views on the Holy Spirit and the works of the law, previously considered within the framework of Hellenistic Judaism or a Greco-Roman context fit neatly within the Palestinian Jewish tradition (as seen in the Dead Sea Scrolls). Frey notes, however, that while Paul always considered himself as a faithful Jew, the fact that many of his fellow Jews rejected and critiqued him “demonstrates that his message was by no means confined only to non-Jews leaving his fellow Jews or contemporary Jewish thought and practice ‘untouched’” (p. 101). Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr (“Jesus, Paul, and the Pharisees”) shows how Jesus of Nazareth, the Pharisees, and Paul have significantly different stances toward the Torah but that, nevertheless, all of them are “to be classified within the diversity of possibilities for Jewish life and faith in the Hellenistic-Roman period” (p. 118).

Six essays make up Part II: “The Particular Issues of Paul’s Message within Second Temple Judaism.” William Campbell’s essay, “Abraham in the Divine Purpose According to Paul,” shows how Abraham is the father of the Jewish people and the father of the Christ-following nations who share Abraham’s faith. Jews and gentiles retain their ethnic specificity even as the gentiles are brought into the family of Abraham. Daniel Boyarin (“Ioudaismos within Paul”) argues that Paul does not claim to abandon Judaism in Galatians 1:13–14; rather, Paul rejects “his Pharisaic zeal for the traditions of the Fathers and his persecution of the congregations (not the church) of God….” (p. 175). In “Trouble in Galatia,” Kathy Ehrensperger questions the standard translations of Paul’s statement: “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves” (Gal. 5:12). Rather, through lexical and etymological observations, she argues that Paul is better understood as attempting to separate (not castrate) the Galatians Jesus followers from those who are confusing them. In his “Ζῆλος According to Paul,” František Ábel argues that Paul reorients the concept of “zeal” through his understanding of the gospel of Christ. No longer is Paul motivated by Pharisaic “zeal”; rather, his zeal is “based on enlightened faith and knowledge” (p. 207). J. Brian Tucker’s essay, “Gentiles Identifying with Moses and Israel’s Story in 1 Cor 10:1–13,” challenges the contention of those like Richard Hays and N.T. Wright who argue that in 1 Corinthians 10 “Paul has refined Israel around those in Christ and given an approving nod to retelling Israel’s story” (p. 221). This does not make good sense of the broader letter of 1 Corinthians wherein Paul repeatedly testifies to an ongoing distinction between Jews and gentiles. According to Tucker, Paul does not give “in-Christ gentiles Jewish ancestry nor is he removing their existing identities as non-Jewish followers of Christ” (p. 229). Finally, Joshua Garroway (“Second Corinthians 3 ‘within Judaism’”) looks at recent attempts to interpret 2 Corinthians 3 (and its claims that Moses’s ministry of the law brought death) and maintain that Paul found nothing problematic with the Torah. Garroway finds such interpretations to be untenable which is why, he says, “‘Paul within Judaism’ scholars have tended to steer clear of it” (p. 242). Nevertheless, he argues that a more conventional reading of 2 Corinthians 3 does not require interpreters to see Paul apart from Judaism. Rather, Paul’s understanding of the inauguration of the prophetic new covenant resulted in a repairing the breach in the original covenant. Garroway states bluntly: “If Judaism necessarily means a belief in the validity of the Old Covenant and adherence to the ceremonial requirements of the Torah, then I fail to see how Paul can be situated ‘within Judaism’” (p. 242).

These twelve essays function as an excellent scholarly introduction to many of the major concerns of the Paul within Judaism approach. And they continue to move the conversation forward as they address challenges and raise new questions. One of the primary themes of these essays, for example, is the need to move beyond the simple claim that Paul remains with Judaism. As Isaac Oliver noted: “As we seek to locate Paul within Judaism, we must also search for the Judaism within Paul” (p. 83). The Paul within Judaism approach has, in the past, often struggled (or simply neglected) to give an account for some difficult Pauline texts such as 1 Corinthians 10, 2 Corinthians 3, and Philippians 3. In this regard, the essays by Tucker and Garroway provide notable opportunities to move the conversation forward. I imagine some will want to contest Garroway’s claim that there is no convincing reading of 2 Corinthians 3 which can affirm Paul’s belief in the validity of the old covenant and ongoing prescriptive regulations of the Torah. The Paul within Judaism approach to Paul has a full head of steam, and these essays are noteworthy contributions which continue to move the conversation forward in helpful directions.