The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul's Letter

The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul's Letter

The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul's Letter

The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul's Letter

Synopsis

Paul's letter to the Romans, says Nanos, is an example of Jewish correspondence, addressing believers in Jesus who are steeped in Jewish ways-whether of Jewish or gentile origin. Arguing against those who think Paul was an apostate from Judaism, Nanos maintains Paul's continuity with his Jewish heritage. Several key arguments here are:
  • Those addressed in Paul's letter were still an integral part of the Roman synagogue communities.
  • The "weak" are non-Christian Jews, while the "strong" included both Jewish and gentile converts to belief in Jesus.
  • Paul as a practicing devout Jew insists on the rules of behavior for "the righteous gentiles."
  • Christian subordination to authorities (Romans 13:1-7) is intended to enforce submission to leaders of the synagogues, not Roman government officials.
  • Paul behaves in a way to confirm the very Jewish portrait of him in Acts: going first to the synagogues.

Excerpt

The new level of respect among New Testament scholars for the integrity of Jewish faith and practice among members of the other Judaism(s) of the first century, from which the early Christian movement emerged and with whom it communicated, is certainly a significant contemporary development that has allowed for a long overdue reevaluation of Jewish and Christian literature.’ More importantly, it is a welcome movement that has laid the foundation for a much more respectful understanding of contemporary Jews and their religious intentions, in addition to the much needed reinterpretation of historic Jewish faith and practice. There is a spirit of mutual respect on an

E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, pp. 426–27, concludes his influential study of Palestinian Judaism thus: “On the assumption that a religion should be understood on the basis of its own self-presentations, as long as these are not manifestly bowdlerized, and not on the basis of polemical attacks, we must say that the Judaism of before 70 kept grace and works in the right perspective, did not trivialize the commandments of God and was not especially marked by hypocrisy. the frequent Christian charge against Judaism, it must be recalled, is not that some individual Jews misunderstood, misapplied and abused their religion, but that ‘Judaism necessarily tends’ towards petty legalism, self-serving and self-deceiving casuistry, and a mixture of arrogance and lack of confidence in God. But the surviving Jewish literature is as free of these characteristics as any I have ever read. By consistently maintaining the basic framework of ‘covenantal nomism’, the gift and demand of God were kept in a healthy relationship with each other, the minutiae of the law were observed on the basis of the large principles of religion and because of commitment to God, and humility before the God who chose and would ultimately redeem Israel was encouraged.” Sanders gives an extensive survey of the historical and modern Christian positions in this same study.

Many other modern scholars could be quoted at this point who call for a new understanding of Jewish faith and practice in the first century and today, beginning perhaps with G. F. Moore and W. D. Davies. Excellent surveys of this new development from various perspectives are available by Calvin Porter, “A New Paradigm for Reading Romans”; J. D. G. Dunn, “A New Perspective on Paul,” in Jesus, Paul and the Law, pp. 183–214; H. Räisänen, “Galatians 2.16 and Paul’s Break with Judaism”; S. Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith; K. Snodgrass, “Spheres of Influence: a Possible Solution to the Problem of Paul and the Law”; D. Hagner, “Paul and Judaism.”

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