The Paul of Philippians

The New Testament book of Philippians is the third “authentic” Pauline letter our small study group has worked through. Let me preface my comments by remarking on the position taken by Paul Nanos, who describes himself as a New Testament scholar with an alternative approach to understanding the apostle Paul. Nanos wants to read the Pauline corpus as though Paul were a Torah-observant Jew. Now, I am having a difficult time with this approach on two counts. First, doesn’t this beg the question of what the first century Paul’s attitude might have been toward Jewish law? Second, I am left to wonder whether Nanos and I are reading the same texts. I cannot fathom how he finds support for a Torah-observant author (whatever that might mean given the first century CE context). Philippians is a case in point for my argument that the Paul who wrote this letter, and the previous two letters we have read, has no interest in upholding even the rudimentary requirements of Jewish law let alone presenting himself as “Torah-observant”. Continue reading

Supersessionism

Supersessionism (replacement theology) is a term in Christian theological discourse that refers to the belief that the Christian Church, as the “new” Israel, has replaced the Jewish people in the biblical economy of salvation so that “… all promises that were for Israel now belong to the Church.” Another term often used for the same conceptual mapping of Jews and Christians in the post-biblical, post-New Testament period is “Replacement Theology”. In addition to these two terms, there is a third, less-formalized notion of “fulfillment theology” that has gained momentum in modern times as a correlate of the Messianic Jewish movement and its mission of “soft” conversion work among American Jews. Continue reading

What about the Pauline letters?

I’ve started a small reading group concentrating on the so-called authentic letters of Paul in the Christian New Testament. This comes in response to intimations from scholars (not to mention outright claims by Christian missionaries to the Jews) that the texts of the New Testament should be read as Jewish texts. Or, even more debatable, that these texts have been more less “hijacked” by the [Gentile] Christian church. Here I refer to the improbable comments to that effect made by an eminent scholar and orthodox Jew, Daniel Boyarin in his 2012 book, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ.

“. . . my argument is that Christianity hijacked not only the Old Testament but the New Testament as well by turning that thoroughly Jewish text away from its cultural origins . . . and making it an attack on the traditions of the Jews, traditions that, I maintain, it sought to uphold . . . (Boyarin, “Epilogue” in The Jewish Gospels).

For a stinging critique of Boyarin’s 2012 book, read Peter Schäfer’s review here: https://newrepublic.com/article/103373/jewish-gospels-christ-boyarin. Continue reading