Early Christianity and Classical Culture: Comparative Studies in Honor of Abraham J. Malherbe

By Abraham Johannes Malherbe | Go to book overview

THE JEWISH PAUL AMONG THE GENTILES
TWO PORTRAYALS

Lcander E. Keck


The Apostle to the Gentiles

What “everybody knows” often conceals how much is not known. So it is with Paul: “everybody knows” that this ardent Jew was Christ’s apostle to non-Jews; that he traversed much of Anatolia as well as Macedonia and Achaia, leaving in his wake house churches in key cities; and that to do so he endured, by his own count, 195 lashes from fellow Jews, unspecified beatings by rods during three arrests by civil authorities, multiple imprisonments, three shipwrecks and stoning, as well as hunger, hypothermia, and persistent anxiety over the wellbeing of the volatile house churches with whom his relationship was strained repeatedly (2 Cor 11:23–28). What was he trying to accomplish? And why was it so important that he willingly endured such hardships? These are some of the things that are not known, at least not very well. To be sure, we know that he believed he had this task from God, “who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace … so that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal 1:15–16). Still, that does not answer the first question, partly because the function of Paul’s statement is to account for his apostleship, not to characterize its goal, and especially because the statement does not disclose God’s purpose for preaching Christ among the Gentiles.1

Not until a pivotal juncture, when he could look back on his activity while also anticipating its next phase (Rom 15:14–32), does he put in writing what he sought to achieve, and this quite apart from the astounding claim that he preached from Jerusalem to modern Albania (Rom 15:19), is rather cryptic: “Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. [Why does he say this when Rom 1:13–15 indicates that he has been writing to Gentiles all along?]2 Inasmuch as I am apostle to the Gentiles

1 For a thorough discussion of Paul’s understanding of his Gentile mission, see Terence L. Donaldson, Paul and the Gentiles: Remapping the Apostle’s Convictional World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997).

2 The fact that in 2:17 Paul addresses the Jew reveals little, if anything, about the

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