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The “Paul within Judaism” Approach

Whereas the Old Perspective viewed Paul as objecting against the efforts to try to merit salvation through faithful obedience to the Torah, the New Perspective on Paul argues that Paul critiqued the view of Torah as a boundary marker separating Israel from the nations and insisted that Gentile Christ followers do not have to adopt Jewish customs (e.g. circumcision, Sabbath, and food laws) to be part of the people of God. Both sides seemed to agree, however, that the community of Jews and Gentiles “in Christ” were no longer under the dominion of Torah but lived by the Spirit who produces fruit of righteousness in them.

In a third approach that has come to be labelled as the Radical New Perspective or the “Paul within Judaism” approach, Paul and other Jewish Christ-followers remain fully Torah-observant. Lloyd Gaston, John Gager, and Stanley Stowers paved the way in arguing that Paul’s message of  reconciliation with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus was directed exclusively to Gentiles, while the Jews already had a prior relationship with God conditioned on the Sinai covenant and the Torah. This “two covenant” reading of Paul is shared by some, but not all, of the scholarly advocates for the “Paul within Judaism” approach. What unites many scholars in the latter school of thought (cf. Mark Nanos, Paula Fredriksen, Pamela Eisenbaum, Caroline Johnson Hodge, Neil Elliott, Magnus Zetterholm, Kathy Ehrensperger, Joel Willitts) is that Paul believed he was living in the dawn of the new age when the nations were streaming into Zion to worship the God of Israel through the appointed messianic deliverer Jesus. However, the nations do not become Israel, nor vice-versa, but they all maintain their distinct social identities even as they are united under the rule of Christ.

There is much I like about this reading of Paul, though there are still passages in the Pauline letters about the role of the Torah in the communities that he establishes or Paul’s own religious practices that give me pause about whether Paul saw the Torah as continuing to be operative in the new eschatological age. I will post some resources in the next post if you want to understand more about this new way of reading Paul.

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