2. What Was Wrong with Judaism?
The Cultural Politics of Pauline Scholarship
An enthusiastic first-century Greek-speaking Jew, one Saul of Tarsus, is walking down a road, with a very troubled mind. The Torah, in which he so firmly believes, claims to be the text of the One True God of all the world, who created heaven and earth and all humanity, and yet its primary content is the history of one particular People—almost one family—and the practices that it prescribes are many of them practices which mark off the particularity of that tribe, his tribe. In his very commitment to the truth of the gospel of that Torah and its claim to universal validity lies the source of Saul's trouble. Not only he but many Jews of the first century shared this sense that something was not right. Philo in Alexandria and the anonymous author of the Wisdom of Solomon seem troubled by the same thoughts. Why would a universal God desire and command that one people should circumcise the male members of the tribe and command food taboos that make it impossible for one people to join in table fellowship with all the rest of his children? Now this Saul, as a loyal Jew, has in the past been among the most active persecutors of a strange messianic sect that has sprung up recently in Jerusalem. He knows something, therefore, of the claims and beliefs of the participants in that sect, little as they appeal to him. Walking, troubled and musing, all of a sudden Saul has a moment of blinding insight, so rich and revealing that he understands it to have been, in fact, an apocalypse: That very sect, far from being something worthy of persecution, provides the answer to the very dilemma that Saul is facing. The birth of Christ as a human being and a Jew, his death, and his resurrection as spiritual and universal was the model and the apocalypse of the transcendence of the physical and particular Torah for Jews alone by its spiritual and universal referent for all. At that moment Saul died, and Paul was born.
By telling the story of the conversion of Paul in this way, I am hardly making a claim to know things about “what really happened.” Some aspects of this story, such as the name change, seem highly unlikely to me. Still less am I claiming to know what was actually going on in the mind of Paul. Rather, I am using the narrative form to construct and communicate the “Paul” that I will present in this book. The Paul that I am constructing here is a highly politicized intervention in biblical interpretation and, I hope, more than that as well. This book is what has come to be known recently as a “cultural reading” of the Pauline corpus. “Cultural reading” has two senses. On the one hand, it refers to the exegetical advances that “European” interpreters of the Bible gain by paying attention to the insights of Bible-readings from “other” cultures that may have practices and knowledges important for the understanding of biblical texts. It refers as well to the politicized readings of the Bible generated by people who have been the object of colonialist or racist practices carried out in the name of the Bible. In this book, I am contributing a cultural reading of my own, as a Jew, of certain key texts from the Pauline corpus, a cultural reading in both senses that I have mentioned. As a traditional Jew, steeped in the literature of rabbinic Judaism, I have intimate knowledge of a religious and hermeneutical tradition very close to that from which Paul presumably sprung. It is also, however, a cultural reading in the second sense, since Jews have certainly been the object of much violence brought about in the name of Paul's text. In this chapter I will present a brief account of developments in the study of Paul as I read them. This is not, however, intended as a history of research, a genre of writing belonging to dissertations, usually found in introductions to same, and ultimately dreary. Rather I intend here a highly political account of different interpretations of Paul from the perspective of a Jew committed to the significance and continuation of Jewish culture and particularity.
Paul and “the Jewish Problem”
Since World War II, the study of Paul's letters has taken on a new sense of urgency and importance. Much of the horror inflicted on the Jews in this century can be traced at least partially to theologically informed attitudes of contempt for the Jews. These attitudes of contempt are partially produced in the context of a particular reading of Paul's texts, a reading which depicts him attacking Judaism as an inferior, mechanistic, commercialized religion, exactly paralleling portrayals of the Jewish People current in anti-Semitic Europe—witness even so relatively mild and nuanced a case as The Merchant of Venice. This reading of Paul's attitude toward Judaism usually goes along with two corollary propositions: that Paul converted to Christianity owing to his disgust with the ancestral religion, and that God had rejected the Jews because of their inferior religious stance. Following a spirited indictment of Paul by the important radical theologian, Rosemary Radford Ruether, various reinterpretations of his work have taken diverse directions (Ruether 1974).
The “Old Paul”
Before World War II, and in certain circles until this day, Paul's oeuvre has been interpreted as a sustained attack on the Jewish religion. This is particularly the case in what has been (with some exaggeration) termed the “Lutheran” reading of Paul. The best summary and critique of this view is found in E. P. Sanders's monumental Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Sanders 1977, and see Fredriksen 1988, 102–06). According to this interpretation, Paul became violently disillusioned with “Judaism” because of its commitment to “works-righteousness.” These accounts of Paul (which also presented themselves as true statements about Judaism!), presented the Law as leading both to a sense of inadequacy, because of its alleged requirement that it be kept in its entirety for salvation, and also to self-righteousness and boasting before Man and God. Furthermore, such a religion was arid and devoid of spiritual feeling. In its commitment to outer ritual (and ethical) action and not inner spiritual feeling, it produced a dry, spiritually deadly legalistic mentality. It was against this decadent and empty religion that Paul revolted. From the very beginning of any kind of scholarly dialogue, Jewish scholars had protested that this view of Judaism simply was not a fair representation of the religion. Jews had always had a notion and powerful sense of God's grace, דסח and םימחר and of the necessity for grace in life and for salvation. Judaism, moreover, had always been inhabited by a profound spirituality experienced both through performance of the commandments and also in such experiences as prayer. The dramatic story of George Foote Moore's initially unsuccessful challenge to the reigning Christian accounts of Judaism, of the frustration of Jewish scholars like Samuel Sandmel who felt that nothing would ever change, and of the eventual triumph of a truer, fairer account of Judaism at the hands of Krister Stendahl, W. D. Davies, and especially Davies's student E. P. Sanders has been well told already (Watson 1986, 1–22). By now, in all but certain diehard Lutheran circles in Germany, it is well recognized that Luther's description of Judaism had more to do with his battles with Catholicism and his own personal spiritual conflicts than with either Paul or Palestinian Judaism. The question that remains, then, is: What about Paul? Did Paul simply misdescribe or misrepresent Judaism for one reason or another, or is it rather the Lutheran tradition which has misread Paul?
Five Current Views
The Gaston-Gager Hypothesis
A very stimulating and moving attempt to totally revise our understanding of Paul was produced by Lloyd Gaston and developed further by John Gager. The basic outlines of this view are that Paul never intended to replace “the Law” as the means of salvation and justification for Jews but only to add Christ as a means of salvation for ethnic gentiles. Paul's “attacks” on the Law are not directed at Jews at all but at Judaizers, that is, at missionaries who contend that gentiles must convert to Judaism and keep the Law, including circumcision, in order to be saved by Christ. Paul had no essential critique of Judaism at all but only a desire to produce “Moses for the masses.” Gager has even written that “Jews of Paul's acquaintance resisted him on the mistaken assumption that he urged other Jews to abandon the Torah for allegiance to Christ” (1983, 200–201). This approach to Paul, termed by Gaston himself an experiment, is certainly a moving effort to rescue Paul from charges of anti-Semitism and thus save him for modern Christians. Ultimately, however, it has proven exegetically unconvincing. I need not rehearse here the objections to this view, since Thielman (and others) have already done the job (Thielman 1989, 123–33). It should be noted that while the thesis as a whole has been rejected, certain of its elements have stimulated valuable rethinking of Paul on various issues. Thus I would argue that there is something useful in the above-quoted proposition: Paul did not urge other Jews to abandon the Torah—except, of course, Peter. On the other hand, as I will suggest in Chapter 9 in my discussion of Romans 11, Jews who did not accept allegiance to Christ were considered by Paul to be lopped-off and abandoned branches of the People of God. Keeping the Law was for Paul adiaphora; faith in Jesus was most certainly not! Romans 14, especially if the “weak” and the “strong” are the law-abiding and the not-law-abiding, supports both halves of this proposition eloquently.
E. P. Sanders: The Christological Interpretation of Paul
Recently, Frank Thielman has presented the current state of Pauline scholarship in the following fashion:
The most prominent representative of this position is E. P. Sanders. Sanders argued that Judaism was not and had never been a religion of “worksrighteousness,” by which is meant a religion in which meritorious works automatically “earn” one's salvation (Sanders 1973, 1977). There had always been a recognition both of God's freedom and of God's mercy in judgment. Judaism was rather a religion of Covenantal Nomism through which salvation had been granted to Israel by a free act of grace, the Covenant, to which the proper response was obedience to its terms. Jews were saved through this grace unless their disobedience was such that it marked them as having renounced the Covenant. This seems to me a fairly accurate broad statement of “the Jewish pattern of religion.” Note its crucial point that in Judaism no one has ever completely fulfilled the requirements of the Law, so God's justification will always have to be informed by mercy or grace. Such a Judaism is clearly much less amenable to treatment as a foil or background for a spiritual revolution by which “legalism” was replaced by grace and spirituality in Paul. For Sanders, Paul leveled no attack on Judaism at all, indeed hardly even a critique. One way of summing up Sanders's position would be to say that the traditional contents of a putative Pauline critique of Judaism cannot be accepted because they would make Paul a fool or a liar. Judaism was particularly marked neither by self-righteousness nor by legalism, if by the latter we understand a dry, nonspiritual or commercialistic religious attitude.
Most interpreters, at least in the last decade, have concluded that Paul's view of the law can only be explained if we assume that he had abandoned Judaism and looked back on his “former way of life,” including his devotion to the law, wholly from the standpoint of his experience with Christ. (Thielman 1989, 1–2)
Therefore, claims Sanders, Paul's own soteriology can hardly be described as universalistic, since it was entirely dependent on faith in Christ, a matter which is as particular as membership in (or conversion to) the Jewish People (1983, 23). For Paul, argues Sanders in a famous formula, the only thing wrong with Judaism was that it was not Christianity (1977, 552). On Galatians 3 (a text which will be discussed at length below) Sanders writes:
In the midst of a sometimes bewildering series of arguments, quotations, and appeals, there seem to be only two sentences in Galatians in which Paul states unambiguously not only what his position is (which is never in doubt) but why he holds it. These statements are [2:21 and 3:21]. Put in propositional terms, they say this: God sent Christ; he did so in order to offer righteousness; this would have been pointless if righteousness were already available by the law (2:21); the law was not given to bring righteousness. That the positive statement about righteousness through Christ grounds the negative one about the law seems to me self-evident. (1983, 27)
Not quite self-evident, Sanders's interpretation depends (as all do) on the choice of particular texts on which to hang the rest. One could just as easily suppose that in these verses Paul is arguing further for his view of the Law, which is grounded, however, elsewhere. On my view, the elsewhere is, of course, the issue of salvation for all: Jews and gentiles alike. Sanders's position in Paul and Palestinian Judaism requires that we assume that there was nothing in Paul's position, thinking, or affect vis-à-vis his prior Judaism that led to his experience on the Damascus Road.
Nor has Sanders substantially revised his position on this question. In his Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, he writes:
One of the most striking features of Paul's argument is that he puts everyone, whether Jew or Gentile, in the same situation. This is best explained by hypothesizing that he thought backwards, from solution to plight, and that his thinking in this, as in many respects, was governed by the overriding conviction that salvation is through Christ. Since Christ came to save all, all needed salvation. The fact that Paul can equate the status of Jew and Gentile is explicable on this hypothesis and is simultaneously the best proof that Paul did not begin by analyzing the human condition. (1983, 68)
This account, however, entirely begs the question of what brought Paul to his recognition that salvation is through Christ. What happened to him was either a psychological or a supernatural miracle. If we, however, reverse the logic, as I do, then he was prepared for his experience by a deep sense of plight—not personal, but theological. We can account for Paul's putting everyone in the same situation by assuming that this was exactly what was bothering him about Judaism, namely that it did not “equate the status of Jew and Gentile.” Since, then, all need salvation, Christ came to save all. The nature of the plight is derivable from his letters and (as Sanders himself recognizes) it is consistent with what we know of first-century Judaism in its several varieties. Accordingly, the view of Paul presented in this book accepts all of Sanders's claims above except the “solution-to-plight” direction and the argument that Paul's cannot be a universalist position because of its requirement of faith.
Sanders has produced another powerful (but not irrefutable) argument for his position. He argues that there is a contradiction within Paul between repeated statements that the Law condemns and kills and also-repeated statements that the Law (or the “old dispensation”) was “glorious” (both together in 2 Corinthians 3). This apparent anomaly is explained by Sanders as a case in which the contrast is not between evil and good but between good and greater good:
The simplest explanation of this dual form of contrast seems to be that [Paul] came to relegate the Mosaic dispensation to a less glorious place because he found something more glorious and that he then, thinking in black-and-white terms, developed the death/life contrast. I cannot see how the development could have run the other way, from an initial conviction that the law only condemns and kills, to a search for something which gives life, to the conviction that life comes by faith in Christ, to the statement that the law lost its glory because a new dispensation surpasses it in glory. (1983, 138)
As I have already said, this seems like an ineluctable claim. There is, however, another possible solution. Paul, while feeling that the Law was sweet and good (glorious) in his former life, was nevertheless deeply disturbed by its exclusive and ethnocentric implications. Having discovered Christ as the solution to this plight, i.e., as the way to render Torah salvation for all, he now perceives that the former condition not only is less glorious than he thought and less glorious than the present condition but, in the absence of a turn toward the Lord, can only bring death and not life. When the Torah is read as a signifier for that which it truly signifies, its lesser glory is then apparent. When, however, it is read only for the letter, then that letter itself brings death and not life.
Thus even in the 1983 book, where he considerably clarifies his interpretation of Paul and definitively argues (to my mind) that the major thrust of Paul's thought on these topics was the salvation of all in Christ, Sanders still does not allow this to be the motivating force behind Paul's ministry. Sanders's book contains the best single demonstration of the thesis that Paul's critique dealt not with individual self-righteousness on the part of Jews but with “their own righteousness,” righteousness that is reserved for Jews, namely, the Law (1983, 36–43). But Sanders's ultimate understanding of Paul still wavers between two (partially incompatible) positions: According to one Paul was primarily motivated by christology, and according to another his primary motivation was the question of inclusion of the gentiles. Thus Sanders writes:
This gives us another way of defining Paul's attack on the law—more precisely, what he found inadequate in it. I said just above that it is the notion of Jewish privilege and the idea of election which he attacks, and I have elsewhere written that his real attack on Judaism is against the idea of the covenant and that what he finds wrong in Judaism is that it lacks Christ. (1983, 47)
Which is it: the notion of privilege, or the lack of Christ? Here, I think, Sanders tries to harmonize his previous claims that the only thing wrong with Judaism was that it was not Christianity with his newer understanding that there is a genuine critique of Judaism in Paul's work, although on an entirely different basis from the Lutheran slander. “The argument is that one need not be Jewish to be ‘righteous’ and is thus against the standard Jewish view that accepting and living by the law is a sign and a condition of favored status. This is both the position which, independently of Paul, we can know to have characterized Judaism and the position which Paul attacks ” (1983, 46). This is just right, but despite mighty efforts to harmonize—“What is wrong with the law, and thus with Judaism, is that it does not provide for God's ultimate purpose, that of saving the entire world through faith in Christ”—Sanders still leaves the christological and universalist aspects insufficiently integrated. Thus he can still write, “Paul's view of the law depends more on the exclusivism of his Christology than on anything else” (1983, 57, n. 64). Sanders still seems to hold that Paul came to Christ, realized that faith in the cross was God's plan for salvation, and then disqualified the Jewish Law for salvation; he does not argue that Paul realized that the Jewish Law could not be the means for salvation because it was only for Jews and came to Christ to solve that problem.
Sanders has forever changed the way that Paul will be read by scholars and interpreters of his work. In his masterwork, he finally achieved what several Christian and Jewish scholars (including Davies) had tried for decades to achieve—to demonstrate that the slander of early Judaism promulgated by interpreters of Paul was simply and finally just that, a slander. Pauline studies will never be the same, at least on English-speaking soil. New commentaries on the corpus advertise themselves as “the first full commentary on the Epistle” since the advent of the new paradigm (Dunn 1988; Barclay 1991). And indeed, Sanders has achieved a paradigm shift in the Kuhnian sense. Whatever criticisms have been leveled against Sanders's work, he has accomplished a gigantic breakthrough, which, I think, will never be reversed: He demonstrated that descriptions of the Judaism against which Paul is allegedly reacting must be based first and foremost in realistic and accurate descriptions of actually known Judaism and cannot be simply “reconstructed” from the Pauline texts themselves. Let me repeat this point: Whatever any interpreter ends up saying about Paul and Judaism from now on starts from actual Jewish texts and not from Paul. Judaism must not be treated as an unknown to be reconstructed by Pauline scholarship. Whether or not one agrees (and I often do and as often do not) with the details of Sanders's own interpretations of Paul, he has laid the foundations for a reading which neither slanders Judaism nor slanders Paul by making his account of Judaism a slander. As a professional and confessional student of rabbinic Judaism, I find Sanders's descriptions of my religious tradition unfailingly apposite to my own intuitions about this tradition. This is the gigantic advance which Sanders has wrought. The following brief quotation is exemplary of Sanders's clarity, accuracy, and intellectual integrity:
The correct exegetical perception that Paul opposed Judaism and that he argued christologically becomes—without argument or exegetical demonstration, but on the ground of basic theological assumptions— an assertion that he opposed the self-righteousness which is typical of Judaism. This step has doubtless been facilitated by more than a century of reading Jewish literature as evidencing self-righteousness. But the supposed objection to Jewish self-righteousness is as absent from Paul's letters as self-righteousness itself is from Jewish literature. (1983, 156 [final emphasis added])
A Neo-Lutheran Reading Which Is Not Anti-Judaic: Stephen Westerholm
In his Israel's Law and the Church's Faith, Stephen Westerholm is a Pauline scholar who essentially maintains the view of Paul that Luther promulgated, without, however, allowing it to be or become a slander of rabbinic Judaism. He accepts Sanders's principle that we cannot describe Judaism on the basis of our reading of Paul, cannot assume that Judaism is in every way the antithesis of Pauline theology—e.g., cannot conclude that if Paul says that Christ excludes boasting, then Jews boast. Westerholm provides, however, an important counter-corollary, “The basis for Paul's rejection of the law must not be determined solely by asking what his foes were proposing any more than we may see Judaism's own perspective of the law in Paul's rejected version of it” (1988, 150). This is well put and means that the initial reasons for Paul's rejection of the Law and his later reflections and amplifications are both equally important. Westerholm argues that Luther understood Paul well but that Paul was representing not Judaism but Christian theology:
There is more of Paul in Luther than many twentieth-century scholars are inclined to allow. But the insights of the “new perspective” must not be lost to view. Paul's convictions need to be identified; they must also be recognized as Christian theology. When Paul's conclusion that the path of the law is dependent on human works is used to posit a rabbinic doctrine of salvation by works, and when his claim that God's grace in Christ excludes human boasting is used to portray rabbinic Jews as self-righteous boasters, the results (in Johnsonian terms) are “pernicious as well as false.” When, moreover, the doctrine of merit perceived by Luther in the Catholicism of his day is read into the Judaism of the first Christian centuries, the results are worthless for historical study. Students who want to know how a rabbinic Jew perceived humanity's place in God's world will read Paul with caution and Luther not at all. (173)
Westerholm goes on to say, “On the other hand, students who want to understand Paul but feel they have nothing to learn from a Martin Luther should consider a career in metallurgy.” The point is well taken, if exaggerated, and Westerholm has made a strong case for reading Paul as motivated by a sense of the universality of sin and a conviction that only grace can save. The important shift in his work from the neo-Lutheran interpretations of the Bultmann school is that for Westerholm it is not keeping of the Law which is sinful in Paul but failure to keep the Law. There is no doubt in my mind as well that Luther's emphasis on faith is a pivotal Pauline theme, once it is deprived of its anti-Judaic slander as Westerholm has done, but I am convinced that Luther (and Westerholm) have missed a major issue in Paul (perhaps the major issue). The issue of re-creation of Universal Israel was central for him, and justification by grace was a necessary condition for this; for Westerholm, the issue of universal sin and salvation by grace is the central point, and the salvation of the gentiles is almost epiphenomenal. While I am entirely in sympathy with Westerholm's sense that theological issues are central in the interpretation of Paul, I disagree strongly with his suggestion that the issue of unification of Jews and gentiles was a “sociological” and not a theological issue for Paul (122). This was no practical matter of “the promotion of the Gentile mission” but rather the very motivation for the gentile mission! It is this difference between us that ultimately determines, I think, the different emphases of our readings of Paul. Westerholm concludes his book by writing, “What influence Paul's discussions of the Gentile problem had in Galatia or Rome in the first century remains a mystery; their later effects in Hippo, Wittenberg, and Aldersgate are better known.” Indeed, but I trust I will be forgiven the observation that this is a rather selective list of Christian “giants.” Westerholm's interpretation is neither pernicious nor false but, I think, not sufficiently grounded in Paul's particular historical situation and that of first-century Judaism. What would have happened, on Westerholm's account, had the Jews been able to keep the Law? The question is, however, one of interpretative emphasis, not absolute disagreement.
The “Sociological” Interpretation of Francis Watson
Westerholm's Paul is quite different from that of Francis Watson in Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach (1986). Indeed, one might suggest that Watson would represent for Westerholm the classic candidate for a career in metallurgy. For him, the Jerusalem church was a reform movement, because it did not call for a radical change in Jewish self-understanding or practice, while Paul's was a sectarian and not reformist move. Watson not only dismisses the theological tradition and interpretation associated with Luther but seems to do away as well with the tradition of interpreting Paul as universalist that goes back to F. C. Baur, in spite of having very complimentary things to say about Baur at various points. He writes, “Thus, the origins of Paul's theology of the law are to be found in a specific social situation, and not in his conversion experience, his psychological problems or his insight into the existential plight of humanity” (28; see also 88–89). The possibility that Paul was a social and cultural critic (to use anachronistic terminology)—i.e., that the origins of his theology of the Law have to do with a critique of its social effects and meanings—seems not to have occurred to Watson as a real option at all.
There is much in Watson's work that I find useful. For instance, his reading seems entirely salutary in its clear recognition that Paul was breaking with the self-understandings of what constituted Jewish community on the part of most Jews (63–69). There is much also that is quite similar to the interpretation given here in the understanding that what was at issue in “works of the Law” was membership in historical Israel. The fundamental difference between our interpretations lies in this: Where Watson over and over sees Paul's objective as causing maximal separation of Christians from Jews, I see his objective as creating maximal unity between Jews and gentiles. For Watson the unity is epiphenomenal to the separation; for me, the separation is an unfortunate consequence of the drive to one-ness (130). According to Watson, the threat from the “men from James” was mirabile dictu a threat “to break down the barrier he had built up between his congregations and the Jewish community” (77)—not, that is, a threat to rebuild the barriers that he had broken down between Jewish and gentile Christians in his congregations! On my view, the mission to the gentiles constituted the very essence of Paul's Christianity—just as Paul tells it in Galatians 1; for Watson it is the product of disappointment at the failure of the Jewish mission.
Watson can write, “The Gentile Christian congregation does not observe the law, and to accept its legitimacy is to abandon the cardinal belief of the Jewish community, the absolute divine authority of the law of Moses, even if one continues to observe it oneself. The antithesis between faith and works is thus not a clash between two great opposing theological principles. It must instead be interpreted sociologically; it expresses the sectarian separation of Pauline congregations from the Jewish community” (134). I find this statement quite astonishing. I agree entirely with Watson that the antithesis between faith and works had nothing to do with achievement versus grace and further that it had everything to do with the question of Jews and gentiles in salvation. What I fail to understand, however, is why this is not to be considered a theological issue par excellence in its own right and why it is not understood by him as the primary motor of Paul's work. What, after all, could possibly be more theological than abandoning a cardinal belief? I find that Watson's formalist sociological explanations of sectarian behavior beg precisely the question of what motivates the break with the original community altogether. As Watson himself remarks, “Once again, it is clear that Paul's use of antithesis asserts the separation of church from synagogue, but does not explain theologically why such a separation is necessary” (69). This seems to me, however, a singularly unsatisfying hermeneutical result. Watson's interpretative schema is also curiously non-historical in its apparent assumption of a typology of sectarian behavior which always obtains in all historical, cultural conditions. Thus, for example, his typology of reform movements as distinguished from sects seems to me seriously inapt for the situation of first-century Judaism, in which sects were the norm and there was no formal hierarchical and hegemonic structure of either theory or practice to reform.
James Dunn: Paul as Culture-Critic
James Dunn accepted that which I have identified as Sanders's unimpeachable achievement, namely the insistence that any descriptions of the Judaism from which Paul came and to which he reacted have to be based on Jewish texts and not on Paul himself and that they may not distort Judaism in order to provide Paul with an effective backdrop. He awarded Sanders, moreover, an extraordinary tribute, writing that while there had been much interesting Pauline scholarship in the last years, “None have succeeded in ‘breaking the mould’ of Pauline studies, the mould into which descriptions of Paul's work and thought have regularly been poured for many decades now. There is, in my judgement, only one work written during the past decade or two which deserves that accolade. I refer to the volume entitled Paul and Palestinian Judaism by E. P. Sanders” (Dunn 1990, 184). In spite of this extraordinary and well-merited praise, Dunn was unhappy, however, with one of the apparent consequences of Sanders's interpretation, namely, that it left Paul appearing weak and self-contradictory: “But this presentation of Paul is only a little better than the one rejected. There remains something very odd in Paul's attitude to his ancestral faith. The Lutheran Paul has been replaced by an idiosyncratic Paul who in arbitrary and irrational manner turns his face against the glory and greatness of Judaism's covenant theology and abandons Judaism simply because it is not Christianity” (1990, 187).
Dunn's own understanding represents a tremendous advance over the previous “Lutheran” reading of Paul, but it also corrects, in my opinion, excesses of Sanders's (earlier) approach as well, for now we have a rational basis for Paul's distress with Judaism, one that would lead him precisely to the point where he would have a “conversion” experience but one that does not slander Judaism, for there is no doubt that one of the major problems with Jewish theology is to account for the gentiles in God's plan. This is not to say that there were not Jewish thinkers before, contemporaneous with, and after Paul who also confronted this problem. Indeed, the opposite is the case; I would claim that many Jews of late antiquity dealt with this issue, from Philo or the author of the Wisdom of Solomon, on the one hand, to the Rabbis, on the other—the Rabbis, especially, with their notion of the righteous of the nations. This view takes Paul as a critic of Judaism and a reformer but not as an anti-Judaic thinker. Nor does the fact that this problem of Jewish theology implicitly raises a critique of Judaism itself render its author anti-Judaic. Judaism, like any culture, is obviously not above or beyond criticism from within or without.
Paul as a Jewish Cultural Critic
I read Paul as a Jewish cultural critic, and I ask what it was in Jewish culture that led him to produce a discourse of radical reform of that culture. This question, moreover, raises two closely related but different points: What was wrong with Jewish culture in Paul's eyes that necessitated a radical reform? And what in the culture provided the grounds for making that critique? The culture itself was in tension with itself, characterized both by narrow ethnocentrism and universalist monotheism. I thus contend that Paul's motivation and theory were genuinely theological, but that his practice and preaching were directed toward radical change in Jewish society.
My fundamental idea, similar to Dunn's—and, as I have said, ultimately going back to Baur—is that what motivated Paul ultimately was a profound concern for the one-ness of humanity. This concern was motivated both by certain universalistic tendencies within biblical Israelite religion and even more by the reinterpretation of these tendencies in the light of Hellenistic notions of universalism (Hengel 1974). Paul was, therefore, troubled by, critical of, the “ethnocentrism” of biblical and post-biblical religion, and particularly the way it implicitly and explicitly created hierarchies between nations, genders, social classes. Despite this powerful, nearly irresistible concern for universal “Man” and critique of “Judaism,” Paul nevertheless remained convinced that the Hebrew Scriptures contained God's revelation and that the Jews had been at least the vehicle for the communication of that revelation. In addition, moreover, to his plight having been motivated by a Hellenistic notion—one, I would emphasize, common to him and many other Jews—of the One or the universal, the solution for him was also generated by this idea. That is, Paul came to see, literally—via his vision on the road to Damascus—that the dual structure of outer, physical reality, that which he refers to as κατὰ σάρκα, which corresponded to and signified an inner, higher, spiritual reality, that which is κατὰ πνεῦμα, provided the answer to his sociocultural problems. He could preserve both the significance of Israel and the Book, as well as include everyone in the People of God. This correspondence and signification holds on many levels at once: It explains the relation of the Jewish People to the Israel of God; it explains the relation of outer works to inner faith; it explains the dual nature of Christ; and it empowers the two-tiered theology of sexuality and the body which is characteristic of Paul as well. Following the view of Angus Fletcher that allegory and allegorical reading systems are not just literary but represent profound ontological or metaphysical commitments, I call this dualist ontology, anthropology, hermeneutic, and christology, “allegory” (Fletcher 1970).
How does my view, then, relate to Dunn's, and how does it answer objections to his interpretation? The crux of the matter is the interpretation of the much contested “works of the Law,” ἔργα νόμου. In my opinion, the entire context of Pauline thought strongly supports Dunn's understanding that this phrase refers precisely to those observances of the Torah which were thought by Jew and gentile alike to mark off the special status of the Jews: circumcision, kashruth, and the observances of Sabbath and the holidays. These are the three items which are mentioned by satirists ad nauseam as emblematic of Jewish cultural practice, of Jewish difference (Gager 1983, 56–57). As Dunn so elegantly puts it, “If an unbaptized Christian is for most of us a contradiction in terms, even more so was a Jew who did not practise the works of the law, circumcision, table regulations and sabbath” (1990, 194). Moreover, it seems likely that for many Jews of the first century, not only did these practices mark off the covenant community exclusively, but justification or salvation was dependent on being a member of that very community. At any rate, Paul seems to have thought so and expected Peter to assent to the proposition as well that gentiles are ipso facto sinners, as we learn in Galatians 2:15. The road to salvation for gentiles, according to such first-century Jews, lay in conversion and acceptance of the covenantal practices. Recent scholarship has made abundantly clear that conversion was a real political and cultural option for many gentiles in the Roman empire (Gager 1983, 77). Nevertheless these practices remained essentially the rituals of a particular ethnic group. The doors were open, not closed, but one was saved by becoming Jewish. This is not, then, exclusiveness in the sense that it excludes, in principle, anyone, but neither does it conform to any Greek sense of the universal, of the One. It remains, after all, a valorization of difference. Now, on my hypothesis, this is precisely the motivating force behind Paul's entire conversion experience and mission, to transcend that very covenantal difference. As Dunn puts it: “The decisive corollary which Paul saw, and which he did not hesitate to draw, was that the covenant is no longer to be identified or characterized by such distinctively Jewish observances as circumcision, food laws and sabbath. Covenant works had become too closely identified as Jewish observances, covenant righteousness as national righteousness.…God's purposes and God's people have now expanded beyond Israel according to the flesh, and so God's righteousness can no longer be restricted in terms of works of the law which emphasize kinship at the level of the flesh” (1990, 197, 200).
Dunn's analysis has recently been challenged by Thomas Schreiner (1991), but I think that the particular turn that I have been giving to the thesis goes a long way toward answering Schreiner's arguments. Schreiner has rightly pointed out that there is in Paul a theoretical and theological attack on the doing of works of the Law, and not merely a critique of specific works of the Law as identity markers. On the other hand, Paul repeatedly makes distinctions between circumcision and “keeping the commandments.” 1 Corinthians 7:19 is an excellent example of this: “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.” There is, accordingly, no doubt but that Dunn is also correct in assuming that Paul singles out circumcision (and to a somewhat lesser extent the other “identity markers”) and opposes them to the commandments of God, or even to the Law, which should be kept. How then can these two seemingly contradictory moments of a general, theoretical attack on “works of the Law” and a specific set of oppositions between certain works and “the commandments of God” or “the precepts of the Law” be reconciled—at least if we do not intend to adopt Räisänen's notions of an incoherent Paul? I suggest that the two can be read as two sides of the same coin, because it is in the doing of the Law, that is, in the focus on the corporeal, that the identity of the ethnic group is marked and established. On the other hand, in the spiritual Law, the Law of faith (Romans 3:27 and see below), there are no ethnic distinctions. Accordingly, when works of the Law are what is emphasized by the theology, then the focus is on the doing, on the external practices and especially on those which mark off the Jews from other peoples. In both Romans and Galatians Paul emphasizes circumcision and kashruth as the two most blatant examples of this. When, however, the theological emphasis is on “faith working through love,” there will still remain room for that faith to be expressed in works—and indeed it must—, but only such works which are indeed an expression of such faith and love (cf. Romans 2:6). Accordingly, Schreiner is right that “works of the Law” refers to the whole Law and not just the particular ethnic markers, and the question is indeed not one of a mistaken attitude toward the Law (229–30). Nevertheless, Dunn is also right. Emphasis on the doing, on the corporeal and literal doing of the Law, leads inevitably to the exclusion of those who have not shared that Law and the history which produced it, while emphasis on faith (as the allegorical interpretation of the Law) allegedly creates a universal People of God.
Dunn has got this just right in my opinion: “It is two ways of looking at the law as a whole which [Paul in Romans 3:27] sets in opposition: when the law is understood in terms of works it is seen as distinctively Jewish and particular features come into prominence (particularly circumcision); but when the law is understood in terms of faith its distinctive Jewish character ceases to hold center stage, and the distinctively Jewish works become subsidiary and secondary matters which cannot be required of all and which can be disregarded by Gentiles in particular without damaging (indeed thereby enhancing—v 31) its faith character” (Dunn 1988, 186–87). Watson has also emphasized this point: “‘Works’ refers to the way of life confined to the Jewish community, and ‘faith’ refers to a response to God which is open to Gentiles” (Watson 1986, 165). Watson and Dunn fail to ask how Paul would have justified his position hermeneutically—how he would have explained his “kind of understanding of the law,” a point which is crucial considering that he and his interlocutors held the Torah to be revealed by God. To my mind, the thesis being put forward in this book, namely that Paul understood “works” as the material signifier of “faith,” that is, his essentially allegorical appropriation of Scripture, solves this problem. This, then, leads once more to a reading of Paul which is in line with the traditional understanding of 2 Corinthians 3:6, namely, that the letter which kills is the literal meaning, while the spirit which gives life is the spiritual meaning of the text.
This connection between the keeping of the Law and ethnic particularity as Paul's main concern has been especially well made by Richard Hays, who summarizes Paul's concern (in Romans 3) as, “Is God the God of the Jews only (as he would be if justification were contingent upon keeping the Law)? Is he not the God of the Gentiles also?” (Hays 1985, 84). Since the emphasis is on the universal, many (if not most) works remain valid, insofar as they are universal. Although physical circumcision is excluded entirely, alms giving, for example, is not. The contrast is then not between the legalistic and the moral but between the particular and the universal, which corresponds to the flesh and the spirit. This is particularly poignant in that the alms that were meant to be given were from gentile Christians to Jewish Christians, thus once more emphasizing both in form and in content the unity of all in the community of the new Israel.
The obsession with Jewish difference, so characteristic of western discourse until the present, finds one of its fountainheads in Galatians and Paul's oppositional emplacement of works and faith. Paul's expression of this opposition, particularly the famous passages in Galatians 3 that seem to refer to the Law as a curse, has been the foundation stone of anti-Judaic discourse and practice in the Church, as well as of accusations that Paul was an “anti-Semite.” In this book, I am reading Paul otherwise.
1. Of course, Paul is ever designated such only in the highly unreliable account of Acts. I use the name here, therefore, for rhetorical purposes, rhetorical purposes similar to those of Acts. [BACK]
2. I first learned of this term through participating in the Cassassa Conference on Cultural Reading of the Bible at Loyola Marymount University in March 1992. [BACK]
3. Campbell has pointed out predecessors to Ruether but remarks, “However, it was only in the seventies that biblical scholars took up this theme with full earnestness, and Ruether's study was at least partly instrumental in causing them to do so” (1992, 12–13). [BACK]
4. Campbell is more precise. He refers to the “German Lutheran understanding of his [Paul's] theology” (Campbell 1992, iv). Two important pieces of this puzzle are that the Scandinavian Lutheran tradition has been quite different (Campbell 1992, 36n.6—Stendahl and Westerholm are prime examples) and that the Barthian tradition of Christian exceptionalism “Christianity is not a religion”) is not altogether different from the Bultmannian; Hamerton-Kelly is an excellent example here. (For my kinsmen according to the flesh, I add that Barth was a prominent Reformed [Calvinist] thinker.) The identification of the “old Paul” as a Lutheran one seems to go back to F. C. Baur himself (1876, 313). [BACK]
5. The mutual exclusiveness of these two propositions seems to have escaped most of these interpreters! [BACK]
6. I have tried as much as possible to confine technical discussions of other scholars' work to the notes. [BACK]
7. It is, in a sense, unfortunate that Gager's book, The Origins of Anti-Semitism (Gager 1983), has become so heavily identified with this thesis, which represents only a small part of what is otherwise a signally important and absolutely convincing piece of work. The many positive citations of this book throughout my work attest to its value in my eyes. [BACK]
8. To a great extent Davies is a real predecessor of this view: “There was no reason why Paul should not reject the view that Gentiles should be converted to Judaism before entering the Messianic Kingdom and at the same time insist that for him as a Jew the Torah was still valid. In so doing he was being true both to the universalist tradition of Judaism and at the same time showing his identification with Israel according to the flesh: he was being true to the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ Israel” (1965, 73). No reason why not indeed, but as lovely as this vision would be, I just do not see it in Paul's texts for reasons that I adduce all through the book. I do not share Davies's willingness to accord credence to reports in Acts which seem to me to contradict the doctrine and practice of the letters. This solution, I would add, is precisely that of rabbinic Judaism. [BACK]
9. By exegetically, I mean that it is founded and founders on the assumption that “works of the Law” means works that the Law does, as it were. Gaston could not know when he wrote that the Hebrew equivalent (perhaps original) for “works of the Law,” namely הרותה ישעמ, was to appear in Qumran as the title of a work detailing the requirements of the Law, just as the traditional interpretation of Paul would have it. See also Westerholm, who compares such phrases as τὰ ἔργα τοῦ θεοῦ in John 6:28, “deeds demanded by God,” and especially “works of the Lord” in Jer. 31:10 (Sept.) and Baruch 2:9, where “his works τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ are explicitly said to be ‘works which he has commanded us’” (1988, 116).
There seems to me, moreover, to be a fundamental implausibility at the heart of the Gaston-Gager hypothesis, namely, its assumption that gentiles could become part of Israel without observing the Law, and that this would not result in a fundamental redefinition of what being part of Israel meant! Thus Gager writes:
Peter Richardson, whose Israel in the Apostolic Church is a valuable contribution just because he carefully delineates the circumstances surrounding the Pauline letters, tends to lose sight of these circumstances in his concluding paragraphs. Thus after demonstrating that Paul's argument in Galatians is that Gentile Christians need not be circumcised in order to become part of Israel, his summary reads like a universal claim: “No more do Law and circumcision enter the picture.” But surely, as his own analysis has demonstrated, his sentence should read, “No more do law and circumcision enter the picture for Gentiles. ”
This is, to my mind, a very problematic claim on several grounds: (1) As I have said, the notion that one could be part of Israel and not be subject to the Law issues in a fundamental redefinition of the notion of Israel; (2) The possibility that Paul intended that there would be mixed Christian communities in which some would observe the Law and others not, resulting, e.g., in inability to eat together, is structurally implausible and directly contradicted by the report of the Antioch confrontation as I interpret it below in Chapter 5; (3) This interpretation of Paul is contraverted by such characteristic Pauline expressions as “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). In short, I think that Richardson is correct. Where Gaston and Gager (and their predecessors and followers) are clearly correct, in my opinion, is in their stipulation that Paul was not critiquing some essential fault in the Law or in the Jews' observance of it but passionately trying to extend it to all folks. This extension, however, could not but result in a fundamental, cataclysmic redefinition of the Law and of the People Israel. So, once more, Paul was not in my opinion anti-Judaic, but he did undermine any traditionally understood notions of what being Jewish meant, just as Sanders has claimed. [BACK]
10. Watson has strongly argued this case (1986, 94–96). The Alexandrian Jewish philosopher and predecessor of Philo, Aristobolus, refers to those who are committed to the literal interpretation of the Law as “having neither strength nor insight,” τοῖς δὲ μὴ μετέχουσι δυνάμεως καὶ συνέσεως ἀλλα τῷ γραπτῷ μόνον προσκειμένοις (cited in Hengel [1974, 164], who has no occasion there, of course, to refer to the possible Pauline parallel). Willingness to leave the literal, the written (note the similarity with Paul's terminology), was thus referred to as a sign of intellectual and spiritual strength. See also Jewett 1971, 42–46. The three categories of Jews for Paul, then, are those who have been lopped off, because they have no faith in Jesus; those who are Christian but keep the Law because they are weak; and those—like he himself—whose faith is so strong that they no longer need to keep the Law. Jewish Christians who keep the Law thus take a place in Paul's value hierarchies similar to the married who marry, because of porneia! This is no anti-Judaism in the later sense, of course, but it is certainly not a valuing of Judaism either. Lest I be misunderstood, once more, the point is not to judge Paul but to see in what way his cultural theory can be useful for us. [BACK]
11. Although Sanders later substantially revises this impression, at this point in the book one could easily conclude that the issue of inclusion of the gentiles has still not been recognized by him as central to Pauline religion. [BACK]
12. This point has already been made by Charles H. Cosgrove (1988, 12). However, in spite of the impressive vigor and clarity of Cosgrove's argumentation (23–38), I am equally unconvinced that his decision to hang the entire letter on the beginning of chapter 3 is necessary. Paul's argumentation from the ecstatic gifts the Galatians have shared with him is a very significant point in the letter, and I have tried to treat it as such, but I also think it is secondary to the motivating force of Paul's gospel. Moreover, I do not think that it is so neatly isolatable from the question of Jews and gentiles in the People of God. In short, I stand by my claim that the choice of starting point is essentially arbitrary, although some will generate stronger readings than others. [BACK]
13. Sanders quotes Georg Eicholz very approvingly: “The encounter with Christ has for Paul the consequence that Christ becomes the middle of his theology, just as previously Torah must have been the middle of his theology” (cited 1983, 151). But at the risk of belaboring the point, what then caused the encounter with Christ if we are not prepared to accept supernatural explanations or ones drawn from the realm of psychopathology? [BACK]
14. Indeed, I would suggest that the only place in which we find solution to plight explicitly encoded in Paul's writing is a passage in which he is granting an assumption to his opponent (Peter) in order to persuade him of the absurdity of his position. Sanders himself senses the anomaly of Paul's utterance here in the context of Pauline expression: “Although Paul has shown in Gal. 2:15 that he knew the standard distinction between being a Gentile ‘sinner’ and a righteous Jew, his general tendency, in evidence in Rom. 6:1–7:4 as well as in Gal. 3: 19–4:10 was to universalize the human plight. All were under sin and in need of redemption; all were under the law” (1983, 72). To my mind, these positions are so fundamentally incompatible that it is impossible to accept 2:15 as Paul's statement of his own position, though it reads perfectly as granting Peter a point in order to catch him in a sort of reductio argument. [BACK]
15. Toward the very end of his book, Sanders allows this as a possible alternative to the thesis he has been defending throughout:
We can never exclude with certainty the possibility that Paul was secretly dissatisfied with the law before his conversion/call. If one is to look for secret dissatisfaction, however, it might be better to look to his stance toward the Gentiles than to his possible frustration with his own situation under the law, or to his analysis of Jews under the law. It is by no means inconceivable that he had native sympathy for the Gentiles and chafed at the Jewish exclusivism which either ignored them or which relegated them to second place in God's plan. (153)
Despite Sanders's disclaimer that “This, like other attempts to penetrate Paul's precall thought, is entirely speculative,” I obviously find it a much more satisfactory account than one that assumes that “out of the blue” Paul had a mystical vision for which nothing in his past had prepared him. I believe there is ample evidence in Paul's preoccupation with this theme in both Galatians and Romans to support the construction of this prior-to-Christ dissatisfaction with Jewish ethnocentricity, particularly as I have already suggested, when we consider the evidence for widespread concern with this issue among Greek-speaking Jews in the first century. [BACK]
16. See especially the summary on pp. 143–44, where Sanders argues that Paul had definite ideas about soteriology and christology but never solved the problem of the Law in a way that he deemed adequate. His “contradictions” on this question are the record of a life-long struggle never resolved. This position is, in itself, a possible but by no means necessary one as I hope to be showing throughout this book. In the latter book, Sanders claims that his former work was misunderstood to imply that “Paul had no substantial critique of his native faith” (154) and refers the reader to Sanders 1977 (550–52). This very reference, however, only demonstrates further what a marginal role this critique plays in Sanders's account of Paul! [BACK]
17. Cf., however, Westerholm (1988, 114–15). [BACK]
18. Note that commentators otherwise as opposed to each other as James Dunn and Charles Cosgrove both observe this principle implicitly and explicitly (Cosgrove 1991, 90ff.; Dunn 1983 and 1990). [BACK]
19. With regard to Judaism we are not in the situation that we are in with regard to the Superapostles of 2 Corinthians or the women prophets of 1 Corinthians, where we have only Paul with which to reconstruct his opposition. Wire 1990 is a simply brilliant example of just how much can be accomplished convincingly using such methods in the absence of actual data. But where there are data, it is impossible to rely on reconstructions through Paul's rhetoric. Wire's reconstruction, moreover, of these Corinthian women is more sympathetic and more critical of Paul's view of them than the reconstructions of Judaism that most Pauline scholarship has produced. [BACK]
20. For extensive discussion of this book, see now Campbell (1992, 122–32). On the whole, I am much more inclined to Campbell's interpretation of Romans than to Watson's, although I dissent from the conclusions of Campbell's studies regarding the valence of Paul's “tolerance.” [BACK]
21. See, however, p. 165, which is then undercut on p. 167. It is, it seems to me, quite impossible to see Paul as a universalist and then identify his primary motivation as causing his “readers to distance themselves from the Jewish community.” See also p. 183, n.16. [BACK]
22. Sanders, already in 1983, had demonstrated, to my mind quite successfully, the inadequacy of the view that Paul tried first to preach to Jews and only turned to gentiles after failing with the Jews that is one of the pillars of Watson's sociological reconstruction of the origins of Paul's alleged “sectarianism” (Sanders 1983, 187–88 and esp. 190). [BACK]
23. Davies (1965, 61–68) is a model itself of a cultural criticism which is not anti-Judaic. Neither apologizing for Jewish “particularism” nor condemning it as an essentialized exclusiveness or innate sense of superiority, Davies anticipates as well my thesis that Paul's critique arose in an environment in which many Jews were increasingly feeling an “uneasy conscience.” He well understands that Jewish isolation was a fence that preserved Jewish difference, and also that “a fence while it preserves, also excludes. The Torah, which differentiated the Jew from others, also separated him from them.” See also Kuschel (1992, 202). [BACK]
24. For Epictetus, conversion to Judaism was used as an analogy for becoming a true Stoic, suggesting, as Gager argues, that it was so common as to have become virtually proverbial. [BACK]
25. See also Thielman (1989, 24) and Westerholm (1988, 117–18). Westerholm makes some remarkable claims in support of his thesis, e.g.:
Nor do the occurrences of the phrase in Romans (3:20, 28) support Dunn's contentions. Dunn claims that, since Paul has just refuted “Jewish presumption in their favoured status as the people of the law, the ‘works of the law’ must be a shorthand way of referring to that in which the typical Jew placed his confidence, the law-observance which documented his membership of the covenant.” But the only commandments of the law mentioned by Paul before his reference to “works of the law” in Rom. 3:20 are taken from the Decalogue (2:21–22), and do not refer to Jewish “identity markers.” Circumcision has been touched upon, but it is treated (rather curiously) as though it were not a part of the law to be observed (2:26–27); in this context at least it can hardly serve as a prime referent of the phrase “works of the law” in 3:20. (118–19)
The verses Romans 2:25–29 hardly just “touch upon” the question of circumcision; they are central to the entire argument of the chapter, namely, that circumcision—i.e., mere membership in the physical People of Israel and bearing its identity markers—does not justify, while adherence to the Law does. The “curious” contrast between the Law and circumcision, far from being a refutation of Dunn, provides in fact very strong support for Dunn's contention that Paul's target is those practices that mark off Israel as separate and saved alone. Romans 3:20 does mount a theoretical attack on “works of the Law” in a general sense (as do other verses as well); the purpose of this critique, however, is once more immediately revealed in 3:27–30, where again circumcision is emphasized and devalued. Verse 4:16 is even more explicit: “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants—not only to the adherents of the law, but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all. ” In Romans, no less than in Galatians, Paul's primary motive is the universalization of soteriology.
And again: “That Paul supports his rejection of the ‘works of the law’ in Rom. 3:20, 28 by showing that Abraham was justified by faith, not works (4:1–5), is positively fatal to Dunn's proposal.…For the ‘works’ by which Abraham could conceivably have been justified, and of which he might have boasted (4:2), were certainly not observances of the peculiarly Jewish parts of the Mosaic code” (119). I just do not know what Westerholm is talking about here, since circumcision and attendant Jewish privilege is the central issue in Romans 4. When Westerholm interprets Romans 4 (170–71) he simply elides the crucial verse 16. Salvation must rest on grace and not on works so that it will be granted to all and not only to ethnic Jews, those for whom Abraham is “ancestor according to the flesh”; this simply continues Paul's cry from the heart in 3:27: “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also?” Paul does not mention universal sinfulness here as the explanation at all. These passages are as sturdy a support for Dunn as he could want. On the other hand, Westerholm's argument here and throughout that Paul condemns failure to keep the Law and not wrong attitudes, boastfulness, or self-righteousness attendant on keeping the Law seems to me absolutely convincing. Of course, Dunn overstates his case when he claims, as he sometimes seems to, that “works of the law” lexically means only the identity markers. His insight, however, that this is what Paul has in mind as the letter which kills, opposed to the spirit which gives life, seems to me absolutely sound. For discussion of this last issue, letter ~ spirit, see the next chapter. [BACK]
26. Schreiner sums up his interpretation of Paul thus:
When Paul says that no one can receive the Spirit or obtain righteousness by “works of law,” his argument is directed against those who thought such righteousness could be merited by performing the law. Paul rules out righteousness by “works of law” because no one can obey the law perfectly. He does not oppose obeying the law in principle. What he opposes is the delusion of those who think they can earn merit before God by their obedience to the law, even though they fail to obey it.
The ultimate problem with this thesis is that there do not seem to have been any Jews who thought that works were sufficient for salvation or that perfect performance was possible for anyone. Accordingly, if that were the force of Paul's critique it would be bursting through an open door, and Jews could answer easily: We agree. No one (least of all us) can keep the Law entirely. God's grace is necessary, but trying to keep the Law is a necessary condition for God's grace to come. His critique would be then no critique, and ineffective. The great advantage of the interpretation that the focus and force of Paul's critique is on the ethnocentrism of Jewish doctrine and practice is that it is a critique of a real Judaism and not one that has to be made up ex nihilo to explain Paul. The issue is, as Schreiner correctly observes, not whether the critique is anti-Semitic but whether it made sense! [BACK]
27. It seems that here again I have reproduced Baur's intuitions as summed up in Bultmann (1967, 14). See also Barclay (1991, 94). [BACK]
28. Alan Segal has phrased this particularly well:
Paul does not distinguish between ceremonial laws and moral laws exactly. He distinguishes between flesh and spirit. But the effect of his distinction, as I will show, is to valorize moral life while denigrating ceremonial life. In other words, it is Paul's opinion that the gentiles must be transformed by their faith in the risen, spiritual Christ so that they are to be treated as righteous gentiles and not to be made to observe any part of the ceremonial law.