The Problems with Paul

Excerpted & Aggregated from I. Elmer, F. F. Bruce, K. Lonig, G. Vermez, B. Wilson, & J. Klausner

Paul’s Origins
Paul is the founder of the Christian religion and its institutions, as the Jerusalem Jesus Movement differed in every way from Paul's Christian Movement. Even such a sound and solid publication as The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church describes Paul as "the creator of the whole doctrinal and ecclesiastical system presupposed in his Epistles."

From the 2nd century AD on, Paul is the preeminent character in the New Testament theology. Unlike Jesus, he recorded his thoughts in writing and through his letters we learn a great deal about his life, ideas, and personality. In addition to the general evidence furnished by an analysis of the genuine writings of Paul, some of the letters contain incidental autobiographical features which allow a deeper grasp of his mentality and motivation. Finally, about half the Acts of the Apostles is an account of the life and missionary activity of Paul, supplementing, sometimes confirming, but also contradicting, the information supplied by Paul himself. These data, luckily preserved, reveal to a careful and critical observer the inspiration underlying Paul's portrait of Jesus.

Who, then, was this true founder of Christianity? He always calls himself Paul, but in the Acts of the Apostles he is also known under the Jewish name of Saul. Acts 13:9 makes the identification explicit: "Saul who is also called Paul." According to the repeated testimony of Acts, he was born in the city of Tarsus in Cilicia (southern Turkey) and was a Roman citizen by birth. It was indeed from Tarsus that his fellow missionary, Barnabas, fetched him to come and preach Jesus in Antioch, the capital of northern Syria. Paul himself never refers in any of his letters to his birthplace or his citizenship; this silence is astonishing if these two factors played as important a part in Paul's story as the author of the Acts of the Apostles implies. The peculiar idea propagated by Jerome in the fourth century that Paul was born in Palestine and later emigrated with his parents to Tarsus (
De viris illustribus 5) deserves no credence, it a legend with no proof.

The date of Paul's birth is nowhere given, but if it is correct that he was a young man at the time of the stoning of the hellenist Stephen (Acts 7:58) in the mid-thirties of the first century, it would mean that he was born ca. 10-15 AD. At the end of Acts (chapter 28), i.e., in the early sixties, he was still alive and was awaiting trial in Rome. Christian tradition, dating to the fourth century, associates his death with Nero's persecution in 67 AD.

Paul describes himself as a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin and an adherent of the religious party of the Pharisees (Rom. 11:1; 2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5). Acts 22:3 claims that he studied in Jerusalem "at the feet of Gamaliel," one of the leaders of the Pharisees in the first half of the first century AD. Nevertheless, Paul's persistent silence on the subject adds a question mark to the validity of the information included in the Acts. A little boast (and he was certainly not averse to boasting), such as "I am a former pupil of the famous Gamaliel," might have helped him in his disputes with Jewish legal authorities. His principles as a Pharisee cannot have been held very profoundly, bearing in mind how easily—unlike the Christian "Judaizers" of the entourage of James—he could allow his Gentile followers (and himself) exemption from observance of Jewish dietary rules and other Mosaic ritual precepts. He possessed two ascertainable Pharisaic features. He had an undeniable facility for argument, positively or negatively, from Bible texts. Like the author of the Dead Sea Damascus Document, Paul was perfectly capable of turning the meaning of a scriptural passage topsy-turvy and arguing that the Jews were the children of Hagar, Abraham's concubine, and Christians the children of Sarah through Isaac (Gal. 4:21-31). Paul was also proud of his typically Pharisaic belief in bodily resurrection, which he skillfully exploited in his polemical speech before the representatives of the Jewish high council in Jerusalem and in Caesarea, gaining the sympathy of its Pharisee members. "When Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, 'Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to.... the resurrection of the dead I am on trial'" (Acts 23:6-7; 24:21).

He was a native Greek speaker, but if we can believe Acts 21:40 he could also improvise an address "in the Hebrew dialect," in Aramaic. His letters were dictated in Greek, but he sometimes appended small sections, for instance the greetings in 1 Corinthians 16:21, in his own hand (also Gal. 6:11; 2 Thess. 3:17; Philem. 19). He suffered from some disease which he calls "a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan" (2 Cor. 12:7) and which has been diagnosed variously as epilepsy, malaria, psychogenetic blindness (C. G.Jung), and the like. He was not an impressive personality. According to his Greek critics, his letters were "weighty and strong, but his bodily presence weak, and his speech of no account" (2 Cor. 10:10). He himself admitted that he was not a great orator (2 Cor. 11:6). His success, mostly among uneducated Greeks, suggests a magnetic character with a charismatic message: "I was with you in weakness and much fear and trembling; and my speech and message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power" (1 Cor. 2:3-4).

Paul the Persecutor
When Paul shows up, he is introduced as a “persecutor” of the “early church”. In general modern christianity it is overwhelmingly taught that Paul persecuted the whole Jesus Movement within and without Jerusalem. However, it is important to note that Paul was not persecuting the "early church", of whom remained good, Law-observant Jews. He persecuted what appeared to him to be a renegade group of apostates, the Hellenist Faction of the Jesus Movement, who had relaxed their observance of the importance of Temple adherence and the Mosaic Law so as to admit unconverted Gentiles to their number (Acts 11:19-20).

Looking at the book of Acts we see that pre-Damascus Paul approved of Stephen’s death and was allegedly even present, during Stephen’s execution, with all the other Law abiding Jews including the members of the Jesus Movement that followed Torah. Paul then began his exclusive persecution of the Hellenist faction of the Jesus Movement.

  • And Saul (Paul) was there, giving approval to his (Stephen’s) death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all EXCEPT the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria......But Saul (Paul) began to destroy the church (EXCEPT the apostles). Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. (Acts 7:60-8:2)
Paul persecuted the Hellenist separatists of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement, chasing them once they dispersed throughout the Greek Diapsora.
  • Now those who had been scattered by the persecution IN CONNECTION WITH Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. (Acts 11:19)
However, Acts says that Paul left the original apostles and the “Hebrews” of the Jesus Movement alone.
  • But Saul (Paul) began to destroy the church (EXCEPT the apostles). (Acts 8:2)
The fact that the "persecuted church" doesn't include the original disciples nor the "Hebrew followers" is explained in the verses preceding Acts 8:2, and is confirmed in Acts 11:19.

In fact, the author of Acts ascribes the origin of the preaching to the Gentiles to neither Paul nor Peter but assigns the initiation of the Gentile Mission to the Hellenists who fled from Jerusalem after Stephen’s execution:

  • Now those who had been scattered by the persecution IN CONNECTION WITH Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them (the Hellenists), however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Gentiles also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. (Acts 11:19-20)
Paul, himself speaks of his own "zeal" for his former Pharisaic life (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:4-6). There is no reason to assume that he did not consider that his former life was any less "spiritual" than his present one. On the contrary, he seems to speak in both Galatians and Philippians with great pride of his "former life in Judaism", even of his persecution of the Hellenist Separatists, which he holds up as an example of how he "stood out among other Jews of his generation" (Gal 1:14).

Hellenists in the Jesus Movement
Almost from the earliest days of the Jerusalem community of the Jesus Movement, it comprised two groups, described by Luke as Hebrews and Hellenists. He introduces them abruptly in Acts 6:1, without explaining who they were. It is plain that in the section of his narrative beginning with Acts 6:1 Luke is drawing on a fresh source; he moves from the preceding section to this by means of a transitional formula: "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing".

The Hebrews and Hellenists in the Jerusalem community, says Luke, began to quarrel over the daily distribution that was made to their widows (and other needy persons) from the common fund. Accordingly, at the instance of the apostles, seven men were appointed to take charge of the distribution and see fair play of whom Stephen was one. But it is clear that this was not their only role, perhaps not even their most important role. Their names are all Greek, and they were probably leaders of the Hellenistic group in the early Jesus Movement. This group was foremost in propagating the Christian-style message throughout Judaea and the neighboring regions; it eventually launched the Gentile mission, and in particular was responsible for founding the church of Syrian Antioch.

But who were these Hellenists?
The term is most probably to be understood in a cultural and especially in a linguistic sense: that is to say, Hellenists were Greek-speaking Jews. The Jews of Antioch and Alexandria and other parts of the western diaspora had been Greek-speaking for generations, as early as the reign of the second Ptolemy (285-246 BC), as attested to in the Zenon papyri.

In Palestine many Jews would be bilingual, speaking both Aramaic and Greek. What then determined whether a Jew was designated a Hebrew or a Hellenist? C. F. D. Moule states that the:
Hellenists were Jews who spoke Greek only; the Hebrews would be Jews who either spoke Aramaic only or spoke both Aramaic and Greek. (in the New Testament "Hebrew" is used in a linguistic sense to include Aramaic.) Perhaps the decisive criterion was membership of a synagogue where the service was conducted in Hebrew or of one in which the scriptures were read, the prayers and blessings recited, and the sermon preached, in Greek. Such a synagogue would be the one in Jerusalem described in Acts 6:9 as the "Synagogue of the Freedmen both Cyrenians and Alexandrians and those from Cilicia and Asia". This was the synagogue attended by Stephen, whose interventions there sounded so subversive that they led to his conviction before the supreme court on a charge of blasphemy and to the dispersal of his fellow Hellenists who were believed to share his views. Stephen and Philip are the only two of the seven Hellenistic participants of whom we have some detailed knowledge.

Stephen and his teaching
In the Hellenistic synagogue which he attended in Jerusalem, Stephen propounded an interpretation of Jesus’ teachings much more radical than that maintained and taught by the twelve, especially with regard to the temple and all that it stood for. A public debate was arranged in which Stephen defended his position with powerful arguments. But, powerful as his arguments were, they appeared to threaten the sanctity of the temple as well as the permanent validity of the whole ancestral law of Israel. The coming of Jesus, Stephen maintained, involved the abrogation of the Mosaic customs and the cessation of sacrificial worship. This was construed as blasphemy against Moses and against God himself, and on this grave charge Stephen was arraigned before the Sanhedrin.

It is historically certain, first of all, that Stephen's proclamation led to a conflict, which ended in his death and the expulsion of his group from Jerusalem. The essence of this conflict can be gleaned from the accusations made by his opponents: blasphemy against Moses and God (Acts 6:11) or "against this holy place and the law" (6:13).

Stephen's argument takes the form of a retrospect of the history of the people of God. Throughout their history, the divine presence was never confined to one spot or even to one country: God revealed himself to Abraham in Mesopotamia, was with Joseph in Egypt, gave "living oracles" to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai (Acts 7:2, 9, 38). The nation of Israel had always shown hostility to God's messengers - to Joseph, to Moses, to the prophets, and most recently to "the Righteous One" whose coming the prophets had foretold (Acts 7:52). The charge of blasphemy against Moses and against God came ill from the descendants of those who during the wilderness wanderings repudiated the leadership of Moses and abandoned the worship of the true God for idolatry.

As for the temple, Stephen implies that a fixed building of stone was no suitable shrine for a pilgrim people, as Israel was intended to be. The movable tabernacle of wilderness days was much more suitable; indeed, everything necessary for pure worship was available to the people in the wilderness, before ever they entered the holy land. Even when they did enter the land, the "tent of witness", made according to divine pattern, continued to serve their requirements in worshipping the God of their fathers until "Solomon built a house for him" (Acts 7:44-47). Solomon's action is deprecated: "the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands" (Acts 7:48). Therefore, to announce the supersession or destruction of the temple was not to commit blasphemy or sacrilege against God, because God was independent of any temple. Stephen's arguments were not accepted; his "defense" served only to confirm the charges brought against him and so, in accordance with the Jewish law against blasphemy, he was executed by stoning.

We meet nothing quite so radical elsewhere in the New Testament. It was common ground to most of the early Christians (for which indeed they could adduce words of Jesus as a precedent) that the temple-order had now been superseded by something better - a spiritual temple with spiritual priesthood and spiritual sacrifices - but the idea that the temple was a mistake from the beginning is unparalleled in the New Testament. The nearest we come to Stephen's approach, so far as the New Testament writings are concerned, is in the Letter to the Hebrews; but the writer to the Hebrews simply ignores the temple and draws his analogies from the literary description of the wilderness tabernacle and its services.

It is best to regard Stephen's speech as a manifesto of the group in which he was a leader—a group of Hellenists who were distinguished from other Hellenistic Jews by their belief in Jesus as Messiah or Son of God, and who were at the same time distinguished from other believers in Jesus by their radical stance in relation to the ancestral customs and the temple cult. This radical stance, did not disappear with Stephen's death: Paul’s interpretation of Jesus’ messiahship was mediated to Paul through congregations of Hellenistic Christians.

The Martyrdom of Stephen and the Beginnings of Diaspora Churches
Stephen's execution, according to Luke, was the signal for a campaign of repression against specific followers of Jesus in Judaea and the Diaspora. A careful study of Luke's record suggests that the Hellenists were singled out for more concentrated attack—not surprisingly, for regular temple-attenders like the twelve and their followers would not be closely associated in the public mind with an anti-temple party. If, at the same time, those Hellenists preached a law-free form of gospel, that would render them the more obnoxious to defenders of the law of Moses. The twelve and their followers might well have been anxious to distance themselves from such a subversive group.

One result of the campaign of repression was that the church of Jerusalem became predominantly "Hebrew" in composition, with a few exceptions like Barnabas the Cypriot and another man of Cyprus, Mnason by name, who was a foundation-member of the Jerusalem church and was still resident there nearly a quarter of a century later (Acts 21:16). Another, and even more important, result was that the dispersed Hellenists propagated the gospel much farther afield, as far north as Antioch and probably south and south-west as far as Alexandria and Cyrenaica.

Philip, who was now evidently leader of the seven in succession to Stephen, launched a mission in Samaria. The Hellenists and the Samaritans are not be equated with each other, but Philip's preaching proved attractive to many of his Samaritan hearers. He even attached to himself the Samaritan guru Simon (Simon Magus of Christian tradition) and presumably with his followers.

As for Simon Magus, while he had no difficulty in adhering to Philip, he was repudiated by Peter and John, and by the apostolic succession of later generations. In later Christian literature he figures as the father of all heresies and as a thorn in the sides of the apostles, especially of Peter. What precisely was the nature of Simon's teaching, which attracted the host of devotees who acclaimed in him "the power of God which is called Great" or possibly "the revealer of divine power" is difficult to say. He does at least seem to have taught "a syncretistic scheme with a few Christian elements grafted on" a form of incipient gnosticism, it might be said. It appears, however, that the preaching of Philip (and, we may suppose, of some of his fellow-Hellenists) was more comprehensive than that of the twelve. Primitive Christianity was more variegated than is commonly recognized.

Philip, in Luke's narrative, moved from Samaria to the neighborhood of Gaza, where he effectively "preached Jesus" to a God-fearing official from Meroe in Nubia, who was on his way home from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Acts 8:26-39). He then turned north along the coastal road until he came to Caesarea (Acts 8:40), and there we find him twenty years later with his four prophesying daughters (Acts 21:8). Caesarea now appears as the main Judaean centre of Hellenistic Christianity, at least until the troubles of 66 AD, when some of the leading Caesarean Christians emigrated to the province of Asia.

The church of Antioch
Luke's Antiochene source then turns its attention to Syrian Antioch, evangelized by unnamed refugees from the persecution in Judaea that followed Stephen's death. According to Luke, when they first came to Antioch they preached only to their fellow Hellenists—Greek-speaking Jews like themselves—but some of them, whose roots were in Cyprus and Cyrene, began to tell the story to Greek-speaking pagans and gentiles as well. This was the commencement of a large-scale mission to Gentiles.

In Antioch, however, several strands of primitive Christianity met. Barnabas the Cypriot, who enjoyed the confidence of the Jerusalem leaders, was sent by them to superintend and direct the Jesus Movement advance in Antioch; he was shortly afterwards joined by Paul, from Tarsus, and later Peter also visited Antioch. Antioch thus became a center from which various understandings of Christianity radiated in a number of directions through the Gentile world. There were at least three strands of Gentile Christianity which Acts helps us to distinguish: one which runs back to Stephen and his Hellenistic colleagues, one which looked to Peter for its leadership, and of course "the radical mission of Paul himself". When, with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, "Gentile Christianity had in a new way to stand on its own feet", it was necessary for the competing groups "to come to terms with one another"; and Acts, can best be understood as "a monument of this process".

Paul’s Conversion
The story of Paul's "conversion" as it is recorded in Acts (9:1-19; 26:4-23) suggests a supernatural or mystical experience on the Damascus Road, which was to instantly transform the former persecutor of the apostate Hellenists, into a proselyte and proselytizer of a reimagined religion. However, Paul’s conversion isn’t a tidy occurrence. He neither converted to the “Way” of the Jesus Movement based in Jerusalem nor did he immediately envisage the christian faith.

Paul equates this experience with that of the post-resurrection visions of Jesus granted to the official witnesses, suggesting that the only difference between his vision and theirs was that his vision took place much later (1 Cor 15:5-8). Luke claims (Acts 9:3; 22:6; 26:12) and Paul implies (Gal 1:17; 2 Cor 11:32-33) that the incident occurred near Damascus. Both situate the episode within the context of Paul's pursuit and persecution of Stephen's Hellenists—the members of the Jesus Movement that had gone out into the Diaspora (Gal 1:13-16; Acts 9:1-2; 22:4-5; 26:11-12). Therefore we must assume that it was in Damascus that he became acquainted with the Christian gospel, and more specifically with the Law-free version of the Gospel propagated by the Hellenists who had fled there following Stephen's martyrdom. Only that form of the Christian message would have incited a Law-abiding Jew like Paul to persecute the Christian community and thus, his revelation diverted him from the path of persecution of the Law-free mission onto the path of propagation.

Paul and Antioch
Following his initial meeting with Cephas, Paul went to Syria and Cilicia (Gal 1:21), and it was probably at this time that he joined the community in Antioch. He did not return to Jerusalem until fourteen years later (Gal 2:1). During the intervening years he seems to have exercised his ministry in Antioch, where he quickly became a leading member of that community. But the evidence in Acts suggests that Paul's initial role was inferior to that of Barnabas and others, such as Simeon Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen (Acts 13:1), who were already involved in a vigorous and successful Law-free mission to the Jewish and Gentile citizens of Antioch. In the traditional list of the prophets and teachers who constituted the leadership at Antioch in Acts 13:1, Paul's name appears last. When Acts (13:1-14:26) has the church in Antioch embark on a mission to expand the scope of the Law-free Gentile mission into Cyprus and Asia Minor, Barnabas is named before Paul as the head of the embassage (13:2; cf. 13:7).

All of the factors noted above indicate that the immediate and primary feature of Paul's so-called conversion was his call to the universal gentile mission started by the Hellenists. Paul's understanding of what his universal mission meant in terms of its the implications for the Law and its bearing on the Gospel were only corollaries, which was worked out with increasing sharpness over the early years of his work as a missionary to the church in Antioch. Thus, both Acts and the letters of Paul indicate that it was during Paul's affiliation with the Hellenists' mission in Antioch that Paul realized the full implication of his "call" to preach the gospel among the Gentiles.











Essay excerpted from:
Ian Elmer,
Paul, Jerusalem, and the Judaisers. Morh Siebeck 2008
F.F. Bruce, Stephen and the Other Hellenists from
Men and Movements in the Primitive Church. Paternoster Press 1979
Karl Lonig, The Circle of Stephen and Its Mission from
Christian Beginnings. Westminster John Knox Press 1987
Geza Vermes,
The Changing Faces of Jesus. Viking Compass 2001
Barrie Wilson,
How Jesus Became Christian. St. Martins Press 2008
Joseph Klausner,
From Jesus to Paul. Macmillan 1943
--all rights reserved the respective authors

Excerpted & Aggregated from B. Wilson, S. Sinclair, J. Klausner, & A. Segal

Paul's Christ Movement differed considerably in origin, beliefs, and practices from the Jesus Movement and from other Judaisms of the time. It owed its origin, for instance, not to the historical Galilean Jew who was a teacher and taught a messianic message, but to Paul's personal experience of the mystical Christ and his “conversion” to the teachings of the separatist Jerusalem Hellenists he allegedly persecuted. Paul himself rarely referred to the teachings of the Jesus of history. That just wasn't his focus. This differs significantly from the Jesus Movement, that group of observant Jews in Jerusalem who were faithful to the teachings and practices of the historical Jesus, their rabbi. Under the leadership of James, Peter, and John, these individuals knew the Jesus of the 20s, walked with him, saw him killed, and understood what he represented.

Paul's beliefs were also distinctive, conceiving of Christ as a world savior, not the political Messiah come to reestablish the David throne and do away with Hellenization. Jesus' message of he Kingdom of God, with its subversive anti-Roman slant, was not for Paul. His practices, moreover, differed fundamentally, denying the legitimacy of keeping the law. So Paul's movement bypassed both Jesus' challenge of Torah and promise of the Kingdom—the two pillars of Jesus' thought and his bulwark against Hellenization.

Moreover, according to the later Book of Acts, Paul got into confrontations with "the Jews" everywhere, in Damascus, in Jerusalem, and in the Diaspora, in a way that members of the Jesus Movement did not. Things Paul said and did aroused tremendous anger wherever he went. Historians, clergy, and biblical scholars have for centuries failed to realize the radical nature of Paul's message and why it engendered such hostility. There are a number of reasons for this.

For one thing, we automatically link Paul's teachings with those of the Jesus Movement, although, in fact, they were drastically different. The Jesus Movement was part of Judaism; Paul's enterprise was not. The Jesus Movement was Torah-observant; Paul's wasn't. The Jesus Movement was led by people who knew the historical Jesus; Paul's movement wasn't. Jesus and his early followers were anti-Roman and anti-Hellenistic; Paul's movement wasn't.

Joining the two movements together was not something that happened at the time of Paul. In his letters, Paul was extremely insistent that he had only minimal contact with the leaders of the Jesus Movement. He was very clear that his movement was separate and different. The synthesis was only created some forty to sixty years after the death of Paul and James, by the author of the Book of Acts. Acts' splicing together the two movements—Paul's Christ Movement with James's Jesus Movement—was so successful, however, that we now tend to think of Paul's Movement as just another form of the early Christianity. It wasn't. It was a brand-new religion entirely. The Christ and Jesus Movements are in fact, different religions, not rival interpretations of the same religion.

Another reason why we miss the radical nature of Paul's message has to do with the order in which documents are listed in today's New Testament. When we open up this section of the Bible, we first encounter the four canonical gospels presented in the following order: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These tell the story of Jesus' sayings and doings, each one from a somewhat different perspective. Then we come across a history book, the Book of Acts, which is really a continuation of Luke's Gospel. Only after five books into the New Testament do we finally arrive at Paul's writings. The order in which all these documents are presented is strategic. By placing Paul's letters after the first five books of the New Testament, including the four gospels, the impression is created that, of course, people in Paul's time knew all that information about the sayings and doings of the historical Jesus. That was not the case, however. In the 50s, the gospels had yet to be produced. All of Paul's letters had been written, and Paul had died, before the first gospel was written.

We often assume that the writings in the New Testament are arranged chronologically. They aren't. The gospels are not presented in the order in which they were likely written. Modern scholars would list the gospels in the following order: Mark first (70s), then Matthew (80s). The last two would be John (90s) and Luke (90s-125). Paul's letters are not arranged chronologically either, being presented in our Bibles in descending order of length, from longest to shortest.

So, in reading Paul today, we should bear in mind that the first recipients of his letters did not have any gospel documents in front of them. We do not know what people understood of the traditions reflected in these later gospel writings. They would only likely know what Jesus taught, observed, and did from what they had been told by their leaders. We have no way of knowing how much—or how little—this was.

Judging from his letters, Paul would have conveyed very little about the historical Jesus. He rarely quoted him and seldom referred to his teachings. He typically did not use Jesus as an authority to back up his preaching. Surprisingly, he seemed totally indifferent to the Jesus of history. Unlike contemporary Christian preachers who often appeal to the words of Jesus to support a point of view in the course of giving a sermon, Paul didn't do so. Paul usually appealed to his mystical experience and to "the Christ" who spoke through him.

The issue Paul addressed in his famous Letter to the Galatians concerns the relationship of his religion to Torah. His arguments are radical as he tries to sweep away Torah observance, by everyone, everywhere—all Jews everywhere, including members of the Jesus Movement. Paul envisaged a religion that was devoid of Torah, based not on the teachings and practices of the historical Jesus but rather on insights he gleaned from the mystical Christ. This had massive repercussions. Paul's teachings wrecked havoc in Jewish and Jesus Movement communities around the eastern Mediterranean. They recognized the radical import of his message and they reacted swiftly, reporting his views promptly to James in Jerusalem. Paul's views also quickly resulted in the formation of a new religion, one that, by removing all the Jewish boundary markers, made it fundamentally Hellenistic in nature. This was not, in any sense, a continuation of Judaism—not a "reform" Judaism, nor a "Judaism light." It really wasn't a Judaism at all. Nor was it an extension of the religion founded by Jesus. It was radically different from both. Paul accomplished by argument what Antiochus Epiphanes had tried to achieve by force: a religion detached from Torah, assimilated into common Hellenistic culture.

It's time now to look at Paul's arguments for getting rid of Torah observance. We will see how truly flimsy some of them were. Others were far-reaching, for the considerations Paul advanced apply equally to Jews as to Gentiles. This has not always been fully appreciated. The rumors that swirled around Paul and were reported to James in Jerusalem were, in fact, very well founded. Paul was actually teaching the abandonment of the traditions of Torah and, in so doing, was laying the groundwork for the creation of an entirely new religion. Along the way, we will also note the most important consideration he might have used—but couldn't.

THE BATTLEGROUND: LETTER TO THE GALATIANS
The circumstances that prompted Paul to write the Letter to the Galatians were straightforward. Paul had made many converts to the Christ Movement in the area of Galatia, now part of midcentral Turkey. They were from a Gentile background, most likely God-fearers from local synagogues. While Paul was away from this region, he learned that rival teachers had come into this part of the world, telling his Gentile converts that they needed to observe the law. Paul did not identify who these individuals were. He did not say that they were emissaries from James in Jerusalem. Nor did he identify them as members of the Jesus Movement.

Paul used very strong language to denounce these other leaders: they were presenting a "different gospel" (Galatians 1:6). They were "confusing you" (Galatians 1:7). He ascribed a negative motivation to them—they wanted "to pervert the gospel of Christ." (Galatians 1:7). He cursed them (Galatians 1:9) and then crudely added, "I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves" (Galatians 5:12). Moreover they had been "bewitching" these new members within Galatia (Galatians 3:1). Rather than engaging in dialogue with their understanding of the movement's tenets, he simply rejected and vilified them.

The immediate issue faced by Paul was this: should Gentile converts to his Christ Movement be made to follow the entire Jewish law, including circumcision? That is, expressed in modern terms, must they become Jewish in order to become Christian? Certainly the Jesus Movement would have demanded that. For them, to become a member of their movement. Gentiles would have had to convert to Judaism. The Jesus Movement was, after all, a form of Judaism. In this it was no different from other Jewish movements of the time. The Pharisees agreed. For them, Gentiles who wished to become members of their group had to undergo the conversion process.

Paul was clear that his opponents insisted that Gentiles had to follow Torah to be part of the new movement. He appears to have understood his opponents to be claiming much more, however—that Torah observance was necessary for salvation. This interpretation goes far beyond typical Jewish teaching. From the standpoint of Judaism, the righteous of all religious traditions may be saved, that is, they would have a share in the world to come when God transforms the earth and establishes his Kingdom. The only requirement for righteous Gentiles was that they observe what became known as the Seven Noahide Laws binding on all humanity. These laws derive from the covenant between God and Noah, who represented all humanity after the flood. These laws include abstaining from: food sacrificed to idols, illicit sexuality, eating meat from animals that have not been properly killed, and murder. They also include not stealing or cursing God as well as the injunction to be just. Noahide Laws prescribe basic human behavior and morality, what is expected of all humans, whatever their culture and whatever their religion. Unlike the requirement for Jews, there is absolutely no need for Gentiles to observe all of Torah law to achieve salvation. So Paul may be overstating his opponents' case. All they may have been claiming is what all Jews of the time would have insisted upon: if you wish to become Jewish, you have to convert. And that applied to the Jesus Movement as much as to the Pharisees.

It is interesting to note what Paul did not do in forming his response to the members of the movement in Galatia. Paul did not say, for instance, that "it's all a misunderstanding." If the account of his career in the Book of Acts were correct, then Paul could have clarified the situation easily and simply. He could have pointed out that the whole issue rested upon a mistake. This is getting somewhat ahead of our story, for we have yet to evaluate the Book of Acts as a source of information about Paul. For our purposes here, however, we need to note that Acts mentions that an important conference had been held in Jerusalem.

This conference would have occurred in the late 40s, a few years prior to the Letter to the Galatians. There it was decided, during the Jerusalem deliberations, that Paul’s teachings to the gentiles should take place in the context of diverse gentile participation in Israel, concomitant to the mission and aims of Jesus’ original teachings. They did not deliberate to the ends of allowing a whole separate, new, and different "mission” to be formed and allowed. However, that is exactly what Paul continued to do, taking the decision of the Pillars of the Jesus Movement and warping it into something that was in violation of the decision made at the Jerusalem deliberations.

Paul, writing to the Galatians a few years later in the 50s, could easily have appealed to this authoritative decision—if it had occurred at all. As we shall see, there is good reason to believe that this conference never happened and that it formed part of Luke's agenda in writing the Book of Acts to graft Paul's Christ Movement on to the earlier Jesus Movement. For the moment, let us note that Paul seems to know nothing about any such decisive decision. If he had, he could have told his rival teachers upfront that he was simply honoring the decision coming from none other than James, the authoritative head of the Jesus Movement. That would have silenced them. Instead, Paul threw a very angry fit. He launched a detailed attack upon Torah observance while defending his own credentials. In so doing, he did not argue that whereas Jewish members were obliged to continue to keep Torah, Gentiles were not. His point was much more radical: no one should observe Torah. It is wrong to heed the requirements of Torah. Observing Torah reveals a fundamental misunderstanding. For Paul, he rejects the whole of the Mosaic Law as the method of salvation but upholds it as a moral standard of conduct in the new Christian Movement.

ABRAHAM'S FAITH
Paul started off by appealing to the example of Abraham, an ancient patriarch who probably lived some eighteen hundred years prior to the time of Paul. Abraham had been a nomad, living in what is modern-day Iraq. Called by God, he left his ancient roots behind and emigrated northwest, up the Euphrates River to Haran. There he received a remarkable promise that if he were to go to the land God would show him, he would possess this land and become a great nation. Moreover, through Abraham, "all the families of the earth" would be eventually blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). So Abraham went. Along the way, God makes a formal agreement with him. In one version of the covenant (Genesis 15), Abraham is told that he shall have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, a promise he is skeptical of at the time since he was well on in years without any children. He is also told that God would give his descendants the land of Canaan (Israel). In another version of the agreement (Genesis 17), God made "an everlasting covenant" with Abraham. He was to be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. He and his offspring would be granted the land of Canaan (Israel) as "a perpetual holding." The sign of this covenant was circumcision. Abraham is told that this is to be kept throughout the generations as an everlasting covenant. On either version of the covenant, Abraham clearly is a person promised an exciting future: land, many children, and a role as a blessing to all the families of the earth.

Let's see what use Paul makes of Abraham. In Galatians, he noted that Abraham believed in God and that he was deemed righteous as a result (Galatians 3:6, referring to Genesis 15:6). So, he concluded, those who believe in Christ are the real descendants of Abraham. They share in the promises God made to him, that through him, all the nations of the world will be blessed. So Paul's argument reaches way back into Jewish history. Abraham was judged to be righteous because of faith or trust in God, not by observing Torah. The Torah came later, given through Moses some five hundred years or so after the time of Abraham. This represents an important detail in Paul's argument. While dates vary, most scholars date Moses to around 1280 B.C. or possibly somewhat earlier.5 The Torah was given to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai during the Exodus from Egypt. Wandering for forty years in the wilderness, they finally entered the Promised Land, Canaan (Israel). Meanwhile, they had formed a nation, with a constitution, the Torah, which provided a framework for religious and civil life. So, by the time of Paul, Torah had been around for some thirteen hundred years. It was the permanent backbone of Judaism.

Paul jumped back to the example of Abraham and his faith, ignoring all of Jewish history between Moses and his own era. In effect, Paul leapfrogged over a span of some thirteen centuries back to the one figure in Jewish history he thought would clinch his case. The whole course of history from Moses to himself was to be set aside, nullified, and discarded. By going back to the example of Abraham, Paul thought that he could demonstrate that belief was sufficient for righteousness, not works of the law. Consequently, he argued, members of his Christ Movement should focus their efforts on belief in Christ, not observing Torah. Paul’s teachings criticize the salvational (soteriological) understanding of Mosaic Law, but he upholds the moral aspects of it instead. Paul seemingly understands the Mosaic Law as a document of election that includes the Jews and excludes the Gentiles. To the unlearned gentile unfamiliar with the Jewish Scriptures this would have been sufficient information, however, inclusion of the Gentiles is included in the Jewish scriptures. Therefore, this hellenistic interpretation is an intentional negation of many aspects of Torah and Prophecy.

It is not known, of course, how his initial readers or listeners in Galatia interpreted his missive. It would have been instructive to learn what these other leaders would have made of his remarks. There are major flaws in his argument, as any astute reader in Galatia or these critics of Paul would have noticed. Paul's argument made an all-too-easy transference from belief or trust in God (as Abraham did) to belief in Christ. Rival teachers might very well have asked. What justifies this leap, from God to Christ?

Moreover, they would have charged, who had the authority to unilaterally change the terms of the contract? The covenant, after all, was a contract, a mutual agreement, made by two parties. In the case of the Torah, the "signatories" were God and the people of Israel. It was a document that was ratified. Could such an agreement be set aside by an outside third party, whether Paul or Christ? They weren't, after all, the parties to this agreement. Moreover, could it be nullified without the consent of both parties, the signatories to the agreement? Why was Paul, an outsider, tampering with the deal? What status did he have in interfering with contract law? Questions like these may have occurred to Paul's rival teachers as they grappled with the implications of his position. They might very well have suspected that Paul was setting up a covert comparison between Christ and God. They would have sensed that Paul's way of putting the matter came very close to contending that Christ was divine. After all, if God gave the Torah, then surely only God could take it away. So what was Paul claiming about the status of the Christ? they might very well have inquired. Was he, in some sense, claiming Christ was God?

Furthermore, Paul's argument ignored the whole development of completely accepted biblical thought up until his time, which included the centrality of Torah observance to the Covenant with God. One cannot read any work of the Old Testament without being struck by this fact. It consistently hammers away at the need for members of the covenant to keep the law, faithfully. As we have seen, this means keeping all of the law all of the time, not some of the law some of the time. For biblical writers, much was at stake in this. Without fidelity to the law, the community would forfeit the land of Israel, and individuals would lose blessings such as long life and good health. How did Paul think he could pass over everything in the Bible from Genesis chapter 25, which concludes the saga of Abraham, to the time when he produced his own letter? This cuts out the rest of the Torah, all of the Prophets and the Writings. It skips over the Book of Exodus, which talks about the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the whole history of occupying the land of Israel, all of the deep insights of the prophets, the Psalms, the Book of Job, and all of Judaism after the Babylonian Exile. What could justify this gigantic leap across history? It reduces Paul's entire bible to just fifteen chapters, from Genesis 11 to 25. That's all that would be relevant if one were to take Paul at his word. Paul's position was tremendously destructive, and it was perceived that way by his critics.

Anyone familiar with the story of Abraham would immediately have recognized that Paul appealed very selectively to the text of Genesis. Had he cited the covenant with Abraham outlined in Genesis 17, mentioned on page 118, rather than Genesis 15, he would have arrived at a very different conclusion. That formulation of the covenant agreement promised Abraham that he would be the ancestor of many nations. The details of this agreement, however, included observance of an "everlasting covenant" (Genesis 17:7) of which the rite of circumcision was an integral part. In fact, in this passage, male circumcision is spoken of as a practice throughout the generations. It requires every male to be circumcised as symbolic of the human portion of the contract with God. This gives a very different impression of Abraham than does the selective reading from Genesis 15.

TORAH OBSERVERS ARE "UNDER A CURSE"
This represents a very strange part of Paul's argument, and it raises more questions than it solves. Paul's intent was clear: he tried to show that the law cannot bring about divine acceptance, because anyone who follows it is "under a curse." In making this claim, Paul appealed to a variety of Old Testament texts. Each reference, however, distorts the clear sense of these writings. They are piled one on top of another, like a stack of cards on the theme of curses. Readers who are not careful to look at the original texts and their contexts may be taken in. If you look carefully, the whole house of cards collapses.

In Galatians 3:10, he quoted, for instance, from a curse made originally in Deuteronomy 27:26. This passage cursed everyone who fails to keep all the requirements of Torah. So people who murder, cheat, or steal or who fail to observe the Sabbath, male circumcision, or Passover would be said to be "under the curse of God." That's consistent with Old Testament teaching. The problem, however, is this: Paul quoted the passage correcdy, but it makes the opposite point to the one he wishes to affirm. Paul wanted to claim that anyone who follows the law is cursed. That's consistent with his objective to reject Torah. The passage in question, however, curses those who do not keep the law. In other words, Deuteronomy curses the very position Paul is advocating. Clearly the Bible does not endorse Paul's position but its exact opposite. Anyone trained in Pharisaic schools would have known this, and Paul's misuse of a fundamental scripture belies the claim that others would later make on his behalf that he had studied with the most famous of Pharisaic leaders of the time, Gamaliel. Likely he had no such education.

Paul then proceeded to quote from the Hebrew prophet Habakkuk, to the effect that the righteous shall live by faith (Galatians 3:11). This would appear to support Paul's position, that only faith in Christ counts, not doing the works of the law. Paul's point here, however, fares no better than the first one. He distorted the meaning of Habakkuk's message. Some six hundred years earlier than Paul, Habakkuk had tried to rally his fellow Jews. He wrote just as the Babylonians were about to invade Judea and Jerusalem. He knew the horrors that attended warfare: destruction, death, exile, rape, looting, and devastation. He urged them to hold fast to their traditional teachings, to be faithful to the teachings and practices of the law. He did so because that is the covenant with God. God will keep Israel safe and secure in the land of Israel provided they honor the covenant through the keeping of the law.

Habakkuk saw "the wicked" surrounding "the righteous." "The wicked" would have consisted of not only the invading Babylonians, but also fellow Jewish citizens of Jerusalem who failed to follow the Torah. "The righteous," conversely, were those who did follow the law. He predicted the temporary triumph of the wicked but also envisaged their eventual downfall. God's word is sure. Habakkuk urged the Judeans to stand firm, to resist the temptation to abandon Torah observance in light of an imminent invasion by a vastly superior force. So, yes, the righteous will live, by being faithful to the law. The emphasis on "faith" is not having beliefs about a religious figure but on being faithful to the law. Paul's argument is way off the mark. He has completely misrepresented the meaning of the passage and substituted a different meaning for what the original text means by "faith." Paul's opponents would have undoubtedly been able to point out this flaw quickly.

Undeterred, Paul went on to quote from Leviticus 18:5 that whoever does the works of the law will live by them (Galatians 3:12). The point of Leviticus, and the Books of the Torah generally, was that Torah observance produces life. The Torah itself is sometimes referred to as "the tree of life" (Proverbs 3:18). The law itself rests on a covenant or agreement made between God and Israel: Torah represents the responsibilities of the Jewish people. The terms of the covenant rely on Jewish faith that God will honor his part of the agreement if they honor theirs. Paul continued on with the theme of curses. He contended that Christ saves humanity from the curse of the law by becoming himself a curse. As we have seen, the curse of the law applies only to those who do not keep the law. But let's move on to what Paul said about Christ becoming "a curse for us" and so removing the curse of the law. Here Paul quoted Deuteronomy 21:22, 23. This passage mandates that if someone is convicted of a capital crime and is executed by being hanged upon a tree, his corpse cannot remain there overnight. The Torah requirement is to bury an executed criminal the same day as he is killed. It represents an act of compassion, so that the executed criminal is not left to rot on the tree for days on end, a spectacle for other people to see and a source of food for scavenger birds. The passage says that anyone who is hanged on a tree is under a divine curse, that is, disgraced.

This text would only apply to Jesus if Paul thought that Christ was guilty of an exceptionally serious crime, so severe that it would place him under "God's curse" as a disgraced criminal. Accusing Christ of committing such a heinous crime that would merit this ignominious death sentence was probably not what Paul intended. There is no suggestion in Paul that Jesus deserved his death, let alone that he committed a capital offense.

So far, Paul has only succeeded in misapplying texts that fail to support the point he wished to make, that Torah observers are somehow "under a curse." But there is more, and this takes us into the heart of Paul's radical message.

BYPASSING JUDAISM
Paul's next contention was that there is a direct connection between Abraham and the Christ. In advancing this line of thought, Paul relied on a semantic twist, interpreting a collective noun for a singular one. He noted that the promises to Abraham in Genesis were to his "offspring," not "offsprings" (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 22:17,18). So the link between Abraham and the Gentiles, he said, was to one individual, Christ, not to a collective or a group such as Jews generally. Why he made this quick identification of "offspring" with "Christ" is not clear.

The strength of Paul's argument lies in the collective use of the word "offspring." A natural reading would be that Gentiles are eventually to be blessed from the offspring of Abraham, that is, from his descendants, the Jewish people. Judaism envisaged that when God transforms the world to correspond to his will, Judaism would be shared with all the families of the earth and the one God would be worshipped by all humanity, living in peace and harmony with one another. In other words, the promises to Abraham will come about at the end-time. Gentiles would then be blessed through the offspring of Abraham, the Jewish people. This is the most plausible reading of the passage in Genesis.

The word "offspring" is a collective noun. In fact, the original context makes this clear. Genesis 22:17 depicts God as indicating to Abraham that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and sand on the seashore. In interpreting this collective noun as referring to a specific individual, Paul was offering us an extremely narrow and forced interpretation of the text.

In leaping back from Christ to the example of Abraham, Paul attempted to bypass hundreds of years of Jewish history. He was distancing the Christ Movement from anything that is Jewish. So he rewrote history. Having made the move from Christ back to Abraham, skipping over the whole time of Torah, Paul had to answer the question that any Jewish person of the time, including members of the Jesus Movement, would have raised: If what you're saying is correct, Paul, why then did God give Torah? Why was it necessary?

Paul's answer was as straightforward as it was radical. He contended that the time of Torah was over. He said that "before faith came" (Galatians 3:23), we were under the law. He likened this to a prison experience, being confined and restricted in our movements. In effect, the Torah functioned as a disciplinary measure, to curb our behavior "until Christ came" (Galatians 3:24). Henceforth, he contended, we are all made righteous not by Torah, but by faith. He confidently asserted that we are all one in Christ Jesus. In one grand often-quoted sweeping statement, he claimed that distinctions such as gender, ethnicity, and status no longer have any relevance.

Here Paul has developed his own theology of history, and it's a powerful one. There are three phases to history, says Paul. First there was the time of faith: from Abraham to Moses. Next there was the period of Torah: from Moses to Christ. Finally there has appeared another time of faith—faith in Christ—the period of human history from Christ onward. Now that Christ has come, Paul said, there is simply no need to observe Torah. This "Torah bypass" position of Paul has far-reaching consequences. If Paul were right that the time of Torah is over, then this argument would apply not only to Gentiles but also to Jews generally, including all the members of the Jesus Movement. This is where the completely opposite understandings of the end-times comes into play: Jesus taught and understood the final "end of the age" to be in the near future whereas Paul has taught that the end of the age had happened on the cross and we are now past the end-times.

This argument would have caused deep concern among members of the Jesus Movement who, quite correctly, would have interpreted Paul as teaching the abolition of Torah observance for anyone, whether a member of his own movement, the Jesus Movement, or any form of Judaism. Years later, the Book of Acts would record how rumors reached James in Jerusalem to the effect that Paul was teaching that the laws of Moses were no longer applicable (Acts 21:20,21). Those reports were correct and are verified by the confusion of the "pillars" when Paul eventually does come to try to explain his theology.

An argument abolishing Torah observance for all time requires much greater justification. Paul presented no biblical or other justification for contending that the time of Torah observance was over: he simply asserted that it was. Why the appearance of the Christ rules out Torah was never made clear. There was no appeal at all to what the Jesus of history said or did. There was no mention of any prophet. There was no reference to any saying of Jesus. It just rested on Paul's saying that it was so. There was nothing in prior Jewish tradition to lead anyone to suppose that Torah was temporary. To say that the argument is "flimsy" is to be kind: it is simply expedient and self-serving. It's an attempt to change the terms of the contract unilaterally, by an outside party. Paul's saying that the Jewish charter agreement with God has been terminated is analogous to some outside party, say the United Nations or the French Parliament, declaring the U.S. Constitution null and void. Just not credible.

It is abundantly clear, then, that Paul did not link his Christ Movement to Judaism as it was known and practiced in his day. He did attempt to relate it, however, to an ancient Jewish patriarch, Abraham, who lived centuries before Moses. Why he felt compelled to link his movement at all to Jewish sources, especially when he wished to deny the validity of Torah observance, is a mystery. What was his motivation? Did he, perhaps, wish to create a sense of antiquity for his Christ Movement, a prized value in Roman eyes? The Roman mind-set detested novelty, valuing ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Persian philosophies and ideas. Without an ancient pedigree, a religion would have minimal appeal. Moreover, the religions that competed with Paul's movement—the cults of Dionysus, Isis, and Mithras—all had impressive ancient roots that helped attract members. So perhaps the example of Abraham, an ancient Jewish hero, would have served his need to position his movement as the outcome of a lengthy and honorable heritage.

Was he also driven by practical considerations? Probably the best way to reach his target audience, the God-fearers, was through the synagogue. And the way into the synagogue was through appeal to Jewish roots. In this case, appealing to Abraham would have been an effective ruse to get into the one distribution network that would help him succeed with his enterprise. Unlike the run-of-the-mill Gentile audience, God-fearers would likely have been familiar with the figure of Abraham from readings from the Jewish scrolls. Thus God-fearers would have been impressed with Paul and pleased that they could inherit the promises to Abraham without having to undergo the onerous conversion process to Judaism. Here they could have all Judaism's benefits, with none of the responsibility. Perhaps Paul found in Abraham just the linchpin he needed to detach the God-fearers from the synagogue and recruit them for his own enterprise.

Later on in Galatians, Paul continued his bypassing of Judaism. In a provocative passage, he claimed that Christians are descended from Abraham via Sarah, the free woman. Jews, however, as those who keep the law, were, he said, descended from Abraham via Hagar, the slave woman. This would have the effect of robbing Judaism of its heritage. It simply makes no sense biblically. Jewish descent is via Isaac and Sarah. It also robs Arabs of their heritage through Ishmael, but that's another story. This genealogy was completely wild. It is hard to imagine someone trained in Pharisaic Judaism, as Acts would have it, making this argument. It does demonstrate, however, the lengths to which Paul was prepared to go to deny Judaism its heritage and its validity. If the time of Torah is truly over, then Judaism as a religion serves no purpose.

WHAT PAUL COULDN'T SAY
The one really good argument that Paul could not use is this: he could have appealed to the practice and teachings of Jesus, to the effect that he did not advocate Torah observance. That would have been a legitimate appeal to " authority—see what Jesus said and did. Paul could then have concluded that Torah observance should not be obligatory for any member of the Christ Movement.

This one argument would have clinched the case. He could not make this argument, however. As we have seen, the historical Jesus taught and practiced Torah observance. So, too, did his earliest followers in Jerusalem. So Paul couldn't say that Jesus agreed with him. He didn't. Paul's position was at odds with what Jesus himself practiced. Moreover, what the historical Jesus did and said did not seem to matter to Paul: he focused on what the Christ figure told him and on his death and resurrection. This demonstrates clearly how much at odds Paul's religion was with that of Jesus. His was not a continuation or reinterpretation of the religion Jesus started and did not find its point of origin in what Jesus said or did.

WHAT CREDIBILITY DID PAUL HAVE?
Paul would have had no credibility with members of the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem or any other Jewish faction of the time. They would have found his ideas totally repugnant both because he rejected Torah observance and also substituted a Roman savior Christ figure for that of a Jewish teacher and Messiah claimant. Paul’s claim of credibility would have no traditional connection to any Torah or Tanakh tradition that any Jew would have recognized. In the prophecies of the Tanakh the ingathering of the gentiles will be the work of God, not of men (Isa. 11:10, 11:12, 49:22). The ingathering of the gentiles are specifically set for the ‘end-times’ (Isa. 68:18, Jer. 3:17, Jer. 16:19). Finally, Israel is not to go to the gentiles, but rather the gentiles are to come to Israel as Israel will "be a light unto the nations" (Isa. 42:6, 49:6, 60:3). According to the prophecies that Jesus based many of his Kingdom Restoration beliefs upon, Paul’s “mission to the gentiles” would have been invalid.

Paul’s was a Hellenistic religion, with very little—if any—Jewish content. Anyone with a Jewish background would have read his position as a capitulation to the assimilationist forces of Hellenization. Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and Jesus Movement members alike would have not only rejected but also despised his views. Did Paul have any credibility with his rivals in Galatia? Would they have been impressed by his inaccurate biblical quotations and sketchy arguments? Would they have just walked away from Torah observance? Unfortunately we don't know their response, but judging from parts of the Jesus Movement who caught wind of Paul's position, they likely went on the attack.

It is undeniable that Paul's position had massive appeal, but at what cost? As Mason and Robinson point out, in their
Early Christian Reader: "Evidently Paul has been accused of perverting the (originally Jewish) gospel, by omitting the demands of the Jewish covenant, in order to please men." Paul's abolition of Torah did create a religion that was easier to follow than one that insisted on Torah observance. No wonder Paul was accused of developing positions to please people. Paul persistency had to answer the charge that he was "a liar."

In defense of his credibility, Paul maintained that he had his message "through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:12). Through this transforming experience, Paul claimed to have had a privileged revelation from "the Christ." The impact of that voice or vision changed his orientation in life, and out of this grew the Christ Movement. Paul also claimed to have received his message from this experience, not from the historical Jesus or from the leaders of the Jesus Movement: "For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11, 12).. There was nothing within the various accounts of his experience that would lead us to predict that he would eventually advance positions that would run counter to Judaism and the Jesus Movement. And yet he did. Whatever this experience was, it was not a "conversion" experience from one form of Judaism to another such as the Jesus Movement. This life-changing event was a conversion out of Judaism into something else—something entirely different. Paul was killed not long after James, in the early to mid 60s, likely in Rome under Nero's reign, confident that his new religion was gaining momentum. What Paul created was enormously successful: the religious dynamic he set in motion ultimately resulted in what eventually became Christianity.

RIVAL RELIGIONS: THE JESUS AND CHRIST MOVEMENTS
As we have seen, Paul's views were vastly different from those of the Jesus Movement and from Jesus himself. They rested on Paul's mystical experience: everything flowed from that deep spiritual connection made between the Christ and Paul. Through this ongoing relationship, Paul received information that differed from the original followers of Jesus and from what the Jesus of history taught and practiced. It was a separate revelation. From this movement, and from his experience, however, emerged subsequent Christianity. It is not often noted the extent to which the foundations of Christianity depend crucially on Paul's personal experience. That vision defined the central character of Paul's message, the shape of his movement, and subsequent Christianity.

The contrast between the two rival movements is stark, differing in terms of origins, practices, and beliefs, as we have seen. More than that, the focal point of the two movements differed. The Jesus Movement represented the religion of the Jewish Son of God Jesus. The Christ Movement, however, was a religion about the Christ. These were two separate religions. This theological dichotomy was recognized as early as the 50's AD in the wider Greek Diaspora. Where the Romans knew the followers of this Hellenist religion they called Paul's Christ Movement a different name:
Christianoi, from where we get the term "Christianity" and "Christian". The recognized differences are recorded historically, for instance, in reading the writings of Greek historians Tacitus (Ann. 15:44) and Suetonius (Nero 16:2 & 38:1-3) we find out that:

  • Up to 50 AD the Romans had considered Paul's Christ Movement as a subset of Judaism, up until and during the Roman persecutions and punitive moves against Judaism and their Synagogues.
  • Between 50 AD and 63 AD the Romans began to see Paul's Christ Movement as more and more distinct and separate from Judaism.
  • By 64 AD the Christianoi were considered their wholly own religion with no association with Judaism.
  • In 64 AD Nero started a fire to incite violence against the Christianoi and there were many Christianoi put to death for being Christianoi.
  • In the campaign after the fire against the Christianoi there were no Jews put to death because the Christianoi and the Jews were not considered to be associated.
  • Even though the Judaean origins of the Christianoi are known to Tacitus (56-117ad) and Suetonius (69-122ad), they do not consider Christianoi as part of Judaism or even associated with it.
  • From 64 AD on, the Christ-followers were their own wholly separate religious entity, the Romans knew the laws and institutions of the Jews, and the Romans understood that Paul's Christ Movement embodied a new orientation.
  • Even before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD (when the original Jerusalem Jesus Movement was dissolved and displaced) the Greek Diaspora knew and understood that the Christianoi were a separate religion distinct from Judaism.
We have two parallel but different traditions that were born in the early decades of the 1st century AD. One tradition goes from Jesus, through the Jesus Movement under James, into the Nazarenes and Ebionites as they were later called. We have carefully profiled this movement and its subsequent history can be traced. The other tradition stems from the Hellenists through Paul into the Christ Movement and then on into modern Christianity. Scholars such as Bart Ehrman refer to the Christ Movement as it moved out into the wider arena of the Roman Empire in the second through fourth centuries as Proto-Orthodox a phrase meaning "what eventually became Christianity". The Proto-Orthodox represents the faction that, in time, became the dominant expression of the new faith. This tradition won out over every other form of early Christianity, the Ebionites and Gnostics included. Leading figures of early Christianity such as Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Augustine were all Proto-Orthodox writers, setting the stage for what eventually became (orthodox) Christianity.

The Proto-Orthodox did not know that they were Proto-Orthodox; that is, they were not aware, of course, that they represented the group that was destined to become Christianity. During the period of intense rivalry within the early church—the second through fourth centuries—everyone proclaimed their movement to be the true faith and denounced others. Why the Proto-Orthodox eventually won out is a complex story that Bart Ehrman traces through several chapters of his Lost Christianities. They include such reasons as having a superior infrastructure—a worldwide network of bishops in communication with one another—as well as a vast writing apparatus that undertook the task of producing gospels, theological and philosophical treatises, legends, romances, letters, and attacks upon every conceivable heretical position. They were driven to succeed, answering every objection and battering down every perceived heresy in a way that their rivals did not. In modern terms, they controlled the airwaves, winning what Ehrman terms "the battle over texts."

But there were other factors at work as well. The shape of Paul's new religion offered immense advantages over that of the Jesus Movement. It was simpler to join. It encouraged faith in a religious figure who bore strong similarities to other saviors who were well known throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. That made it much easier than having to back up through the history of Israel to explain the necessity for a political Messiah. It offered immediate rewards: eternal life through faith in Christ. It opened up food choices, with dietary restrictions abandoned. It was easier—much easier—to follow, with none of the laws of Torah constantly on the minds of its members. In fact, like most Hellenistic religions, it made few demands on its members. Furthermore, it radically reduced the need to read and understand what we call the Old Testament since its central message, that of Torah observance, had been shattered. God-fearers no longer had to attend synagogue services. The welcome mat was out for them in the new Christ Movement, which greeted them without making them second-class members. No more were they appendages to Judaism but full-fledged members of the new movement. And it was inclusive. Everyone was welcomed on the same terms. Paul unleashed a powerful new religious dynamic within the world of his time. It was appealing and inviting.

That is not to say that Paul's movement was not without its problems. It faced strenuous opposition. Paul was constantly attacked. Virtually every one of Paul's letters addresses issues raised by various kinds of opponents, most of them coming from Jewish or Jesus Movement teachers. We tend to ignore the anger that Paul's views stirred up wherever he went, but his catalogue of opposition is immense. The earliest letter of Paul (and, thus, the earliest Christian writing we possess), 1 Thessalonians, for instance, talked about being treated shamefully at Philippi and that he faced great opposition in Thessalonica. Somewhat later, in 1 Corinthians, he mentioned several rival factions at work within that congregation, one led by Apollos and another by no less a personage than Peter. In Philippians he criticized opposition leaders who, he maintained, preached out of envy or rivalry. There, too, he attacked those who practice circumcision—that is, every form of Judaism, including the Jesus Movement people—as "dogs" and "evil-workers" (Philippians 3:2). In 2 Corinthians, he denounced Judaism as a "ministry of death" (2 Corinthians 3:7) and advanced the view that whenever Torah is read by Jewish people, a veil clouds their understanding. He battled against what he sarcastically called "the super apostles," (2 Corinthians 11:7) probably referring to the original followers of Jesus, and brands them as "false apostles," "deceitful workers," and agents of Satan.

In addition to being confronted with immense opposition, Paul's religion faced other significant challenges. He had to contend with a number of major ethical questions. Letters such as 1 Corinthians testify to this, where family, sexual, and social matters dominate the discussion. Even at the end of Galatians, he cautioned his hearers that freedom from the law does not mean anarchy. In the process of abandoning Torah, however, he could not refer to these ready-made ethical principles to resolve the contentious matters that had surfaced. In practice he tended to answer these issues on a rather ad hoc, piecemeal basis.

In addition, Paul had to face problems about which we hear very little. What replaced the Sabbath? Did his members take a day off work? If so, when? How did his new converts get along with their old Jewish friends and acquaintances in the synagogues they had recently left? How much social interaction was possible between them and observant Jews? How much bitterness was present? Did Paul's pragmatic instructions that it makes no difference what one eats, including meat from temples dedicated to idols, really persuade his membership to engage in this practice? And, apart from having faith in the Christ and waiting for his return, what else did his membership have to believe?

Moreover, without the distinctiveness of Torah, what distinguished Paul's followers from those of the mystery religions of the time? It would appear that only the name of the dying-rising savior divine-human differs—Christ for Mithras or Dionysus, for instance. On the other side of the fence were the members of the Jesus Movement. They were shocked by Paul's teachings; they opposed him vigorously and were probably dismayed by his success. They viewed him as a false teacher, someone who had developed a thoroughly Hellenized religion. They thought of themselves as the true successors of Jesus, following in his footsteps and continuing his practices. Ironically, however, this did not seem to count as Paul's religion swept through the Mediterranean. The Jesus Movement had little in common with its rival. There could have been little interaction between Paul's group and the Jesus Movement. Everything was different: the holidays, the food they ate, the beliefs they entertained, and the practices they considered important. Outsiders, however, Jews and Gentiles alike, might make the mistake of supposing that they were similar, sharing as they did some common terminology including mention of Jesus, whom Paul typically called the Christ. No wonder outsiders were confused.

In time, Paul's Christ Movement and its successors, the Proto-Orthodox, won out over all the alternatives. It's difficult to date the birth of Christianity as an orthodox religion or "church", but it could be dated to the fourth century (300's AD). It was during this century that the Proto-Orthodox faction became favored by Constantine and subsequently decreed the official religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Theodosius in 380 AD. This imperial backing allowed this dominant group to do away with all their rivals, their rivals' leadership, and their rivals' writings—the Ebionites, Gnostics, as well as many other forms of Christianity that had emerged by this time.

The Proto-Orthodox succeeded for many reasons, some of which have been cited—imperial backing, the shape of the religion created by Paul, strong episcopal leadership, and a network of communications. In modern business terms, they occupied an enviable and strategic position. They had the product, a flexible, welcoming, easy-to-follow religion. They had the distribution network, bishops scattered around the Mediterranean in constant communication with one another. They controlled the communication process, producing endless writings that supported their own position while responding to every criticism in a way that the Ebionite and Gnostic Christians failed to do. They wrote gospels, letters, romances, fictitious histories, attacks on heretics, and defenses of the faith. They advanced an effective public relations campaign, contending that their bishops were descended from the original disciples of Jesus. They also had the branding—a modern Roman religion with some links to an ancient and respectable Jewish ancestry.

But there was another important factor at work. None of this would have happened without Luke’s largely secondhand folkloric Book of Acts, which glued the Christ Movement on to the Jesus Movement—at least on paper. That, of course, never happened in reality. The Jesus and Christ Movements were parallel movements, at odds with each other. But Acts tries to tell us otherwise.







Essay excerpted & aggregated from:
Barrie Wilson,
How Jesus Became Christian. St. Martins Press. 2008
Scott Sinclair,
Jesus Christ According to Paul. Sheffield Academic Press. 1988
Joseph Klausner,
From Jesus to Paul. Macmillan 1943
Alan Segal,
Rebecca’s Children, Judaism & Christianity in the Roman World. Harvard University Press, 1986
--all rights reserved the respective authors

Excerpted & Aggregated from M. Bird, J. Klausner, D. Sim, & C. H. H. Scobie

Did Paul understand the Restoration ideology the same as Jesus? For Paul, was the Restoration a fulfillment of Jewish hopes for the restoration of the national fortunes of Israel? The answer is an obvious No. Paul was an apocalyptic Jew of sorts, but he was a hellenistic Jew that was a student of the Diaspora and the Greek Septuagint, and his understanding of salvation differed in the micro and the macro from the one held by the mainstream Judaism of his day, including the Jerusalem Jesus Movement. Apocalypticism among Jews and the "Hebrews" of the original Jesus Movement, shared the philosophy of restoration theology: a final and certain triumph, assuring the re-establishment of the throne, the temple, the altar, and the city of Jerusalem. These were the symbols of the nation that enjoyed salvation, the truly good life. However, in Paul's vision of things, the temple, the throne and Jerusalem play no role whatsoever. Israel was not the linchpin in human history. The nation had lost its salvational role.

Paul envisioned salvation as a glorified existence in which the whole of creation participated fully and equally and at the same level (Rom 8:21, 30). He expected the second coming of the Lord, who comes to judge the world, raise the dead and translate the living saints (1 Cor 15:24-26, 51-54) as an event encompassing everyone the same. Jewish Restoration theology nationalized the end-time hopes of Israel whereas Paul broke with this vision of salvation. His cosmic Christ was not a Jewish Messiah. For him, even though Jesus was, according to the flesh, the son of David, what counts is that, by the power of the Spirit released at the resurrection, He is now a new Adam in whose image all humanity is to live (Rom 1:3-4; 1 Cor 15:47-49).

Paul's Universal Mission
The missionary expansion of Paul's Christian Movement in the early centuries AD is a truly astonishing phenomenon. What Paul preached and practiced was the exact opposite of Jesus ministry: a universal mission. Whereas Jesus' ministry was exclusive to Jews, Israel, and those who wanted to become part of Israel, Paul's was universally inclusive. It is of the essence of Paul's position that his interpretation of the Gospel is not to be confined to Jews but is to be offered to the Gentiles equally. His mission was universal in a geographical sense also. Hints in his letters and the diary source employed in Acts allow us to appreciate the extent of his travels especially subsequent to the favorable outcome of the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem. By the time he wrote Romans Paul could claim to have "fully preached the gospel of Christ... from Jerusalem and as far round as Illyricum" (Rom. 15:19); his plans were to visit Rome and then go on from there to Spain (Rom. 15:24, 28). Clearly, Paul sees himself playing the major role in proclaiming the Gospel throughout the whole Greek diaspora.

It is when we go back from Paul to the historical Jesus that serious questions arise. There is no evidence that Jesus conducted a mission to Gentiles, a fact to which Paul himself bears witness in passing when he remarks that "
Christ became a servant to the circumcised" (Rom. 15:8). The only saying ascribed to Jesus which refers to Jewish proselytizing (Matt. 23:15) is highly critical in tone. Moreover, Matthew's Gospel also records a quite specific instruction of Jesus to his disciples: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 10:5-6; 15:24). It is not uncommon to find Jesus presented as operating entirely within the framework of contemporary Judaism.

A major problem therefore presents itself in relation to the origin of the universal mission of the Christian Church. Was this most important development in any sense initiated or authorized by Jesus, or was it in fact quite contrary to his will and intention? We are faced here in effect with a form of the classic question, Who was the real founder of Christianity, Jesus or Paul?

The History of Paul's Universal Religion
For our knowledge of the earliest period of the Christian Church during which the universal mission began, we are very largely dependent on Acts 1-12. The great hero of Acts is Paul. Although care is taken to show that the Jews were given chance alter chance to hear his preaching of the Gospel they did not respond, whereas the Gentiles did. The point is summarized in the closing verses of the book with the quotation from Isa. 6:9-10 and Paul's declaration "
that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen" (Acts 28:29).8 The three accounts of Paul's conversion in Acts 9, 22, and 26 all emphasize that God's purpose in calling Paul was that he might "carry my name before the Gentiles ..." (Acts 9:15). Yet Acts does not depict Paul as engaged in any mission to Gentiles until Acts 13:48 and this specific version makes it clear that Paul was not the initiator of the Gentile mission.

The insertion of the Cornelius episode in Acts 10 and 11 prior to Paul's involvement in mission to Gentiles gives Peter a certain priority over Paul in this matter. The story is obviously very important for the author of Acts in demonstrating that the Gentile mission was no aberration but met with the approval of Peter, the leader of the original apostles, but it can hardly be said to present Peter as the inaugurator of a mission to Gentiles. Peter does not take the initiative and is only led to accept the Gentile Cornelius because of a special divinely-granted vision. Moreover, Acts says nothing thereafter of any involvement of Peter in mission to Gentiles.

It must be regarded as a tribute to Luke's faithfulness to his sources that he ascribes the origin of preaching to Gentiles to neither Paul nor Peter but to members of the "Hellenists" who fled from Jerusalem following the martyrdom of Stephen and who "on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus" (Acts 11:20). The context makes it quite clear that here "the Greeks" (
tons Helenas) means Gentiles. The ascription of this major breakthrough to an obscure group of anonymous Hellenists serves none of Luke's theological purposes and clearly indicates that we are dealing here with a historically reliable tradition. These Hellenists established the congregation at Antioch to which Paul attached himself: they therefore form the historical link between the earliest Jerusalem community and Paul.

The Hellenists and the Hebrews
There has been a growing realization of the key role of the Hellenists in early Christian history. They were evidently Greek-speaking Diaspora Jews resident, for whatever reason, in Jerusalem, and they formed a distinct section of the early pre-Christian community, after being expelled from the Jerusalem Jesus Community. The ferocity of the attack upon them—an attack which apparently left the "Hebrews" unscathed—can hardly have been due to the fact that they spoke Greek; rather it must have been due to their distinctive beliefs which included a radical attitude towards both Torah and Temple.

The persecution of the Hellenists raises a further question. Why were these followers of Jesus persecuted but not the members of the original Hebrew and Aramaic-speaking Jesus Movement? The answer lies in the distinctive message of the Hellenists, which they proclaimed in the Greek-language synagogues in Jerusalem. While it can be assumed that some of their message about the good news of Jesus paralleled the preaching of the Hebrews, they differed from their Hebrew counterparts in two distinct ways: Luke provides an important clue when he reports that Stephen, the leader of the Hellenists, was charged with criticizing the Temple and the Torah (Acts 6:11-14). Despite Luke’s best efforts to protect Stephen from these charges by describing his critics as false witnesses (Acts 6:13), historically speaking the accusations were probably justified and grounded in reality. This means that the Hellenists, unlike the Hebrews, accepted that the appearance of the messiah had rendered unimportant or even invalidated both the centrality of the temple and the Mosaic Law, on some level. It was this attack upon these fundamental institutions of contemporary Judaism that was met with a violent response by the Jews of the Greek-speaking synagogues. While the Hellenists were later persecuted by their fellow Diaspora Jews, the Hebrews (disciples and the family of Jesus) were not similarly targeted (Acts 8:1). Even outsiders were aware of the significant differences between the two groups and their subsequent independence of one another.

The Hellenists’ radically different interpretation of the Christ event would have distanced them even further from the original members of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement. The disciples and the family of Jesus disapproved strongly of these Hellenist theological innovations, which led in turn to an even greater division between the two over and above the original linguistic and cultural differences. It is also probable that the Hebrews (disciples and the family of Jesus) did not oppose the persecution of the Hellenists by the Diaspora Jews. The fact that the Hebrews escaped any persecution suggests that they were perceived to be no different by other Jews, and also that they did not identify themselves with their Hellenist associates who were under attack nor did the Hebrews come to their defense. The breach between the two was apparently complete.

This above reconstruction evidences that within only a few years of the establishment of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement, there were distinct factions with different theologies which engaged in competing missions to the Jews of Jerusalem. The Hebrews conducted a Law-observant mission largely directed at the Aramaic-speaking population, while the Hellenists conducted an alternative Law-free mission to the Greek- speaking Jews of the Diaspora synagogues. These two missions were not a unified missionary effort by the Jerusalem church in general, as some have argued, but totally independent enterprises overseen by different groups which disagreed on a number of fundamental issues and which were probably at times in direct competition with one another for converts. This scenario provides the most plausible background to the later competing missions to the Gentiles.

The Hellenist mission in Jerusalem came to an abrupt halt when the surviving Hellenists were forced to flee Jerusalem and returned to their original locations in the Diaspora. There the Hellenists mostly continued to proclaim their interpretations about Jesus to their fellow Jews. The author of Acts relates that the Jerusalem Jesus Movement allegedly lent considerable assistance to the Hellenists at this time (Acts 8:14-25; 9:32-43; 11:22), but this motif is mainly just a literary device for the author of Acts to bridge the differences between the Hebrews and the Hellenists. We have here a clear example of Luke’s agenda to minimize the differences between the two groups and to highlight that the diciples and the Jerusalem Movement ultimately oversaw the development of the Christian mission, even though there is no proof that being the case.

Luke provides better information when he states that the Hellenists who traveled to Antioch seemingly abandoned the Jewish mission and began to speak to the Gentiles (Acts 11:19-20). This momentous act marked the beginning of the Christian mission to the Gentiles, and would change forever the nature of the Jesus' original teachings. The abandonment of the Jewish mission by the Hellenists in Antioch was the result of the failure of that particular missionary endeavor. This is not surprising, given that the gospel of these Hellenists married faith in the Christ with a relaxed emphasis on the necessity of Law-observance, a combination that had led directly to their persecution in Jerusalem. There is no need to suppose that the Jews of the Diaspora responded any more positively to this message than their counterparts in the Jewish homeland. We need to remember that the Hebrews within the Jerusalem Jesus Movement did not share this Hellenist interpretation of the significance of Jesus’ ministry.

As news of the successful Gentile mission in Antioch reached other Hellenist centers, they too gradually replaced the original and unsuccessful Jewish mission with its Gentile counterpart. This development left the Law-observant Hebrew mission in Jerusalem as the sole mission to the Jews. Paul acknowledges as much in his account of the apostolic council when he accepts that Peter had been entrusted with the Jewish mission, and that this mission was the sole responsibility of the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:7-9).

It should also be mentioned that the mission by the Jerusalem Jesus Movement had mediocre success as well. The testimony of Acts has that the original Jerusalem church attracted many thousands of members (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 21:20), and it is known through patristic writings, that emissaries or even some disciples themselves made their way throughout the Diaspora to places like India, Syria, and Egypt where they preached the original Torah-observant teachings of Jesus to the Jews in those places. However, significant inroads were not made. Writing in the late 50s to the Romans, Paul acknowledges that the mission to the Jews led by the Jerusalem church had been, in his opinion, dismal failure and he attempts to find a theological explanation (Rom. 9-11).

In Paul's surmising, the rejection of Jesus' original message did not involve the issue of Torah-observance because the Jerusalem church continued to abide by the Law. The reason why the original version of the message failed to make any real impression among the Jews is provided by Paul in 1 Cor. 1:22-23, where he states that the proclamation of Christ crucified presented a major obstacle to Jewish conversion. To put the matter simply, the claim of a messiah dying a shameful death on a cross did not cohere with the complex of contemporary Jewish messianic expectations, and this led most Jews to dismiss the identification of Jesus with the messiah. After the destruction of the Jerusalem church in 70 AD, the Jewish mission was severely compromised and it was carried out by the few pockets of Jewish followers of Jesus that remained. It enjoyed even less success in the post-war period, since now it was in competition for converts with a resurgent and aggressive Pharisaism. By this time the Paul's Christ Movement was heading towards a completely Gentile future.

The Hellenist Mission to the Gentiles
A careful study of the traditions preserved in Acts indicates that the mission of the Hellenists developed in three stages. As Greek-speaking Jewish Christians they first of all shared their faith with their fellow Diaspora Jews: they "traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews" (Acts 11:19). Secondly, an important new stage is documented in Acts 8 where Philip preaches the Gospel to the Samaritans. Thirdly, in Acts 11:20 we have the further break-through with the preaching of the message to Gentiles.

Historically, this threefold development makes sense since the Samaritans served as a middle term between Jews and Gentiles. The Gospel having been extended to Samaritans and having been favorably received, it would then be much easier to take the next logical step and go to the Gentiles.

Luke's sources evidently suggested to him this threefold pattern of mission as a way of ordering the material of his second volume. Thus Acts 1:8 provides us with a rough table of contents:
You shall be my witnesses
in Jerusalem and in all Judaea
(Acts 1-7; 9-12);
and Samaria (Acts 8);
and to the ends of the earth (Acts 13-28),

While there is much that remains obscure, the information that we have on the threefold mission of the Hellenists does allow us to trace something of the historical development from the earliest Jerusalem community to the Gentile-oriented congregation at Antioch as the representatives of which Paul and Barnabas set out on the so-called "First Missionary Journey."

None of this resulted in an actual mission to Gentiles in Old Testament times for three interlocking reasons. First, the ingathering of the Gentiles is an end-times concept; the nations do not come to Zion now, but "in those days," i.e., at the end-time. Second, the ingathering will be the work of God, not of men. Third, Israel is not to go to the Gentiles, but rather the Gentiles are to come to Israel. It is striking to compare and contrast the centripetal movement in the Old Testament (a movement inward, from the Gentile nations to Zion), with the centrifugal movement typical of the New Testament (a movement outward, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth).

What comes to expression in Paul's theology is the conviction that with the Christ event the New Age has dawned. "
Now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). Now, therefore, is the time for the end-times ingathering of the Gentiles.

It is clear that Jewish resistance to the Christian mission created a major problem for Paul and we can see him wrestling with this issue in Rom. 9-11. The earliest Christian community seems to have worked with a timetable developed from the Old Testament teaching. Now was the time for the mission to Israel; before long would come the “the return of Christ”, to be followed by the ingathering of the Gentiles. But that was not the way things were working out! It was becoming increasingly apparent that now was the time of the ingathering of the Gentiles. Paul therefore was forced to alter the timetable: "
I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:25-26).19 The order now is (1) the ingathering of the Gentiles, (2) the conversion of Israel, and (3) “the return of Christ”.

It may be added that Paul's collection for the Jerusalem church to which he devoted so much time and thought is to be interpreted in part in “end times” terms. The delegates of the Gentile churches bearing their gifts to Jerusalem represent the fulfillment of the prophecies of the nations bringing their tribute to Zion.

Paul's end-times theology of missions was certainly taken over from the earlier Hellenists. It is noteworthy that the climax of Phil. 2:6-11, widely accepted as a pre-PauIine "Christ Hymn," is clearly modeled on the end-times ingathering of the Gentiles (Isa. 45:23).

A more speculative question is how the Hellenists would have justified their preaching to Samaritans, Here we can draw attention to another series of Old Testament passages which express the hope of an end-times reunion of North and South, i.e., of all the twelve tribes of Israel. Jeremiah's "Book of Comfort" (Jer. 30-31) is directed to both Israel and Judah, and a major theme is the ingathering and reunification of God's people. Ezekiel's concern for the North appears in chapters 33-37, especially in the vision of the two sticks in 37:15-23. In the ideal reallocation of the Holy Land (Ezek. 45:1-8, 47:13-48:35) equal portions are to be given to all twelve tribes.

Most Jews in later times refused to recognize the Samaritans as descendants of the old northern tribes. One approach was to develop the myth of the "lost tribes" still living in exile in a distant land; in the intertestamental literature this could still be combined with hope of an “end times” reunification. Another approach, however, was to ignore the whole idea of the exiled northern tribes and to regard the existing Jewish community as including representatives of all twelve tribes.

The Hellenists apparently took neither of these views. The fact that following the death of Stephen and the ensuing persecution Philip they made straight for Samaria indicates a much more favorable attitude to the Samaritans. It certainly would not be surprising if the Hellenists justified their missionary outreach to the Samaritans on the basis of the “end times” reunion of North and South.

Thus a basic difference between the Hebrews and Hellenists lay in the area of end-times beliefs. While the Hebrews accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah their end-time was still essentially futurist. The Hellenists, on the other hand, grasped much more clearly the fact that the New Age had dawned with the Christ event and the position they arrived at was much more one of inaugurated end-time. The end has already broken into history and the New Age had dawned. Now, therefore, was the time for the end-times reunion of North and South, and if so, then indeed also the time for the end-times ingathering of the Gentiles.

The Historical Jesus and the Universal Mission
Having traced the development of the early Christian mission backwards from Paul through the Hellenists to the beginnings of the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem the question remains as to how these developments were related to the teaching and practice of the historical Jesus. What was the attitude of Jesus to Samaritans and Gentiles?

Jesus' position is known to us only through the Gospels which, of course, reflect the viewpoints of their authors and of the communities for which they were written. At first glance they seem to exhibit a bewildering variety of approach. With a degree of oversimplification the views of the Gospels in regard to the attitude of the historical Jesus towards Samaritans and Gentiles could be tabulated as follows:

Matthew: no approach or mission to either Samaritans or Gentiles.
Mark: an approach to Gentiles but no mission to Samaritans.
Luke: an approach to both Samaritans and Gentiles.
John: an approach to Samaritans but no mission to Gentiles.

It is possible here to look briefly at each of the Gospels in turn:

Matthew
The situation in Matthew is more complex. It could be characterized as "no approach to Samaritans or Gentiles" on the basis of the prohibition of 10:5-6, which appears at the outset of Jesus' charge to the Twelve. But this, of course, would be to ignore the ambivalence elsewhere in the Gospel regarding gentile contact. Matthew reproduces the healings of Gentiles found in Mark—the Gadarene demoniac (8:28-34) and the Canaanite woman's daughter (15:21-28), and adds from Q source the healing of the centurion's servant which includes the saying on the ingathering of the Gentiles (8:5-I3//Luke 7:1-10). His conclusion to the Parable of the Vineyard is even more pointed than Mark's: "The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it" (21:43). As with Mark, however, the Gentile mission is envisaged as occurring only after Jesus' death; only then will "this gospel of the kingdom be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come" (24:14; cf. 26:13). The basis for this outreach is found in the pseudipigraphic and questionable "Great Commission" of 28:18-20: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations."

How are the conflicting statements (1) prohibiting a Samaritan and Gentile mission, and (2) commanding a universal outreach, to be reconciled? One viewpoint is a salvation-history approach is generally employed: 10:5-6 applies only to Jesus' lifetime which is the period of the mission to Israel; 28:18-20 applies to the post-Easter situation which is the period of the Gentile mission.

Matt. 10:5-6, however, still raises problems. Matthew felt able to integrate this piece of traditional material into his gospel, but form criticism asks why the pre-Matthean community preserved and passed on such a saying. Now the threefold structure of the saying recalls in a remarkable way the threefold pattern of the mission of the Hellenists as a comparison with Acts 1:8 makes clear:

Matthew 10:5-6 “
Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

versus

Acts 1:8 “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judaea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

The one saying is an exact contradiction of the other and the conclusion is inescapable that the saying forbidding a mission to Samaritans or Gentiles was employed by a conservative Jewish community which stood in opposition to the outreach pioneered by the Hellenists.

This implies, what has in fact been recognized, that Matthew’s Gospel has been forcefully redacted by a much later pro-Gentile convert: an earlier, conservative, Jewish-Christian stratum has been integrated with other material by a redactor who himself strongly supports the Gentile mission.

Mark
Mark is the only Gospel to show no interest in the Samaritans from which we may conclude that the question of a Samaritan mission simply was not a live issue in the community for which Mark wrote. On the other hand, it is generally recognized that a major concern of Mark is the Gentile mission.The Gospel depicts repeated excursions into Gentile territories on the fringes of Palestine. It makes sense that Jesus entered these areas only to seek out pockets of Jewish population, yet frequent encounters with Gentiles could hardly be avoided. Examples are provided of contacts of Jesus with Gentiles in the healing of the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:l-20)26 and of the Syrophoenician woman's daughter (Mark 7:24-30).

Mark recognizes that the universal mission comes only after the death of Jesus which is seen as a "ransom for many" (10:45; cf. 14:24); the climax of the Gospel comes with the words of the Gentile centurion at the cross, "Truly this man was Son of God" (15:39). Before the end comes "the gospel must first be preached to all nations" (13:10) and "in the whole world" (14:9). This is closely connected with another major theme in Mark: the Jews have had their chance and rejected it, therefore mission is directed to the Gentiles. The conclusion of the Parable of the Vineyard makes this clear: "The owner... will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others" (12:9).

We have here a view of universal mission which is close to that developed by Paul, and many scholars would hold that the later situation has been read back into the life of Jesus, particularly in such passages as 12:9, 13:10, and 14:9. Yet we cannot but be struck by the general reserve and restraint of the Gospel. Mark is doing his best to forcefully link the later Gentile mission with Jesus but appears to be working with a very limited range of material on purpose.

Luke
Luke is unique in emphasizing Jesus' contacts with both Gentiles and Samaritans. It is widely recognized that a major theme of Luke-Acts is the development of the Gentile mission, and to this end Luke adopts Marcan and Q source material, adding an emphasis on the Gentile mission as the fulfillment of prophecy. There may be a further reference in the sending out of the Seventy (Luke 10:1-16), though the significance of this is disputed. Luke shares with Mark and Matthew the basic view that the Gentile mission is post-resurrection: 24:46-47 is a saying of the risen Christ and points forward to Luke's version of the missionary command in Acts 1:8 given by Christ at his Ascension.

In his special section, 9:51-18:14, Luke has included three passages which refer to Samaritans: the rejection of Jesus and his disciples by a Samaritan village (9:51-56), the Parable of the Good Samaritan (10:30-37) and the story of the ten lepers of whom only the Samaritan returned to give thanks (17:11-19). Since Luke uses the (l) Jews/ (2) Samaritans (3) Gentiles outline in Acts some scholars have long been suspicious that the writer of Luke has forcefully added the Samaritan mission into the Gospel. Some treatments of these passages holds that the historical Jesus never had any dealings with either Samaritans or Gentiles. The rejection by a Samaritan village is a Lucan composition, as is the Parable of the Good Samaritan and also the story of the Ten Lepers.

John
The Fourth Gospel says nothing about a Gentile mission. The view which holds that it does is based on later traditions which regard the Gospel as very late, written in Ephesus, and dependent on the Synoptics, opinions which have been increasingly questioned in recent Johannine research.

The healing of the official's son (John 4:46-54) can be interpreted in terms of Jesus acceptance of Gentiles only if such an idea is imported from the Synoptics. The text itself gives no indication that the basilikos (a soldier or government official in the service of Herod Antipas) was a Gentile. The "Greeks" (Hellenes) of 7:35 and 12:20 are frequently supposed to be Gentiles but the Gospel itself says they were from "the Diaspora of the Greeks" and had come to Jerusalem "to worship at the feast," i.e., there is nothing to indicate that they were other than Greek-speaking Diaspora Jews.

On the other hand, the Fourth Gospel does very clearly depict Jesus approaching Samaritans in John 4. At the level of the final redaction the story serves as a framework for typical Johannine teaching on the Living Water and the True Worship, but behind this is a stratum of tradition which is deeply interested in the mission to the Samaritans and which seeks to present Jesus as the initiator and authorizer of such a mission. There are many indications that John's Gospel originated in a community which ultimately went back to stages one and two of the Hellenists' mission, and this view is strengthened by recent studies which suggest some Samaritan influence in the development of Johannine christology, Here again, therefore, we catch echoes of controversy, in this case over stage two, the mission to the Samaritans. This, of course, raises the possibility that the narrative has no historical basis but has been invented precisely in order to validate the later mission. While some features of the passage, particularly the glowing accounts of the conversion of "many" Samaritans (4:39-41), may have been added in the light of later developments it is still possible to side with those scholars who find a core of early tradition in the passage; the encounter of Jesus and a Samaritan woman in this account would be comparable to Synoptic stories of Jesus* willingness to reach out to those regarded by strict Jewish society as despised outcasts.

Conclusion
It is clear, in the first place, that Jesus confined his mission and that of his disciples to the people of Israel. The Gospels are agreed on this, and the explicit missionary (commission) commands in Matthew and Luke are ascribed not to the historical Jesus, but to later additions added in of the risen Christ of Paul. It is when John has Jesus winning large numbers of Samaritans as believers that the critical scholar has to become suspicious.

Secondly, Jesus affirmed the entry of non-Jews into the Kingdom, and their complete equality with Jews, as eschatological (end times) concepts. In so doing he rejected much of the narrowly nationalistic thought of his day and returned to the higher teaching of the Old Testament. His choice of twelve disciples and his promise to them that they would "
sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28//Luke 22:28-30) indicates his acceptance of the end-times reunion of all twelve tribes of Israel, both northern and southern. The saying of Matt. 8:11//Luke 13:29 combines the ideas of the end-times ingathering of the Gentiles of Isa. 49:12 and the end-times banquet of Isa. 25:6-8. It is apparent that several other passages in the Gospels reflect the same cluster of ideas. A similar emphasis is to be found in several passages which deal with the final judgment. In Matt. 25:32 "all the nations" are to be gathered before the throne of the Son of Man and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats which follows spells out criteria for judgment that make Jewish descent irrelevant. Thus Gentiles like the men of Nineveh (Matt. 12:41//Luke 11:32), the people of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 1 l:2I-22//Luke 10:13-14), and even of notorious Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:15//Luke 10:12) may enter the Kingdom while unrepentant Jews will find themselves excluded.

In the third place, there were undoubtedly occasions when Jesus accepted both Gentiles and Samaritans and gave them a share in the coming salvation here and now. There are no good grounds for denying the historicity of Jesus' encounters with the Syrophoenician woman, the Gerasene demoniac, and the centurion of Capernaum. While it is true that in none of these cases does Jesus take the initiative, nevertheless he does accept Gentiles who approach him in faith. In the latter incident Jesus is moved to pronounce the verdict, "
Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith" (Matt. 8:10). It is not just at the end time that Gentiles will be received on equal terms with Jews; that happens in Jesus' ministry. Similarly, a strong case can be made out for Jesus' having regarded the Samaritans in a favorable light (contrary to the prevailing view of his day) and for having healed and helped individual Samaritans.

This is consistent with the widely accepted view that we cannot eliminate the tension between present and future which exists in Jesus' sayings on the Kingdom of God. His position is best defined neither as a wholly futurist end-times, nor a wholly realized end-time, but rather as an inaugurated end-time. For Jesus, God's rule still lies in the future; yet coming events cast their shadow before them and in his words and deeds the Kingdom is already breaking into history. Thus Jesus not only affirms the future ingathering of those outside Israel; in his ministry he accepts Samaritans and Gentiles in addition to Jews.

Jesus did not conceive of a Gentile mission independent of a continuing mission to Israel nor as a sequel to a failed Jewish mission. There is no indication by Jesus in his teachings that a preaching mission to gentiles would have a Torah-free basis, either. It is clear that Jesus intended the mission to Israel to continue into the future, Gentiles would also have the message of the kingdom announced to them and would be given an opportunity to respond. According to Jesus’ intent a Gentile mission rested upon a continuing Jewish mission and did not supersede or replace the witness to Israel.

Did Paul's universal mission to the Gentiles have it's origin in the historical mission of Jesus? There is very little to suggest that it did, in neither a historical nor theological context. For instance, when defending his own apostleship and mission, Paul does not maintain that he is modeling himself on the prior example of Jesus; on the contrary, he states that he was charged with initiating and overseeing the Gentile mission by the risen Christ (Gal. 1:12; 16-17). Second, the original Jerusalem Jesus Movement did (not in its initial phase) conduct a Gentile mission. Acts specifies that its members preached only to Jews and proselytes (2:5, 10, 22, 3:12-13), and this is confirmed by Paul’s witness that the Jerusalem authorities had traditionally been involved only in the Jewish mission and those who would convert (Gal. 2:7-9). We know that the three Pillars of the Jerusalem church, the disciples Peter, John, and James the brother of Jesus, were themselves recipients of visitations of the resurrected Lord (1 Cor. 15:5-7). Yet Jesus had not commissioned them to embark on a Gentile mission, nor had he communicated to them that he had commissioned Paul to do so armed with the Law-free gospel. Therefore, because Jesus was not involved in a Gentile mission and this was understood by the members of the original Jerusalem church, then there was no historic teaching for the latter to have communicated such a position to the Hellenists. Because there was no historical influence from Jesus through the Hellenists to Paul who took over the Gentile mission, then there is not any solid proof that Paul's universal mission to the Gentiles had it's origins in the historical mission of Jesus. It is clear that neither of the later Christian Gentile missions (Hellenists or Paul) can be traced back either to the practice or the commandment of the historical Jesus or risen Jesus.

In the immediate post-resurrection period it was the Hellenists who saw the death and resurrection of Christ as the decisive event of salvation history. They were emboldened to preach to Samaritans and the success of that mission both confirmed their view that the time of the end-times reunion of North and South had indeed arrived and prompted them to extend their mission to encompass the end-times ingathering of the Gentiles, and this universal Mission is what Paul took over and continued with.

Of all the missions, only the Law-observant mission to the Jews can be said to have had its origin in the teaching and example of the historical Jesus. The alternative Law-free Jewish mission of the Hellenists had no basis in the practice of the historical Jesus, and there is no evidence that it was revealed to the Hellenists by the risen Lord. The origin of the Law-free Gentile mission is not certain. It clearly did not begin with the historical Jesus, and it is not especially clear that it can be traced back to the risen Christ. Paul is adamant that this was revealed to him at the time of his conversion, but there is good evidence that Paul was first exposed to this mission when he went to Antioch. Furthermore, there is no confirmation of Paul’s claims by others who also experienced the risen one. The Jerusalem church did not include Paul in its official list of resurrection witnesses, and its emissaries in Paul’s churches questioned his apostolic credentials. It is most likely that the Gentile mission originated with the Hellenists in Antioch, not as the result of a divine revelation but as a new missionary initiative occasioned by the failure of their mission to the Jews.







Essay excerpted from:
Michael Bird,
Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission.T & T Clark, 2006
Joseph Klausner,
From Jesus to Paul. Macmillan 1943
Sim, David C.
Competing Missions in the Early Church: The Hebrews, the Hellenists, Paul, the Historical Jesus and the Risen Christ. Australian Catholic University, 2010
Charles Scobie,
Jesus or Paul? The Origin of the Universal Mission of the Christian Church in “From Jesus to Paul”. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 1984
--all rights reserved the respective authors

Before the Parting of the Ways stands Paul's Break from Judaism
The Fourth Gospel says nothing about a Gentile mission. The view which holds that it does is based on later traditions which regard the Gospel as very late, written in Ephesus, and dependent on the Synoptics, opinions which have been increasingly questioned in recent Johannine research.

The healing of the official's son (John 4:46-54) can be interpreted in terms of Jesus acceptance of Gentiles only if such an idea is imported from the Synoptics. The text itself gives no indication that the basilikos (a soldier or government official in the service of Herod Antipas) was a Gentile. The "Greeks" (Hellenes) of 7:35 and 12:20 are frequently supposed to be Gentiles but the Gospel itself says they were from "the Diaspora of the Greeks" and had come to Jerusalem "to worship at the feast," i.e., there is nothing to indicate that they were other than Greek-speaking Diaspora Jews.

On the other hand, the Fourth Gospel does very clearly depict Jesus approaching Samaritans in John 4. At the level of the final redaction the story serves as a framework for typical Johannine teaching on the Living Water and the True Worship, but behind this is a stratum of tradition which is deeply interested in the mission to the Samaritans and which seeks to present Jesus as the initiator and authorizer of such a mission. There are many indications that John's Gospel originated in a community which ultimately went back to stages one and two of the Hellenists' mission, and this view is strengthened by recent studies which suggest some Samaritan influence in the development of Johannine christology, Here again, therefore, we catch echoes of controversy, in this case over stage two, the mission to the Samaritans. This, of course, raises the possibility that the narrative has no historical basis but has been invented precisely in order to validate the later mission. While some features of the passage, particularly the glowing accounts of the conversion of "many" Samaritans (4:39-41), may have been added in the light of later developments it is still possible to side with those scholars who find a core of early tradition in the passage; the encounter of Jesus and a Samaritan woman in this account would be comparable to Synoptic stories of Jesus* willingness to reach out to those regarded by strict Jewish society as despised outcasts.

Conclusion
It is clear, in the first place, that Jesus confined his mission and that of his disciples to the people of Israel. The Gospels are agreed on this, and the explicit missionary (commission) commands in Matthew and Luke are ascribed not to the historical Jesus, but to later additions added in of the risen Christ of Paul. It is when John has Jesus winning large numbers of Samaritans as believers that the critical scholar has to become suspicious.

Secondly, Jesus affirmed the entry of non-Jews into the Kingdom, and their complete equality with Jews, as eschatological (end times) concepts. In so doing he rejected much of the narrowly nationalistic thought of his day and returned to the higher teaching of the Old Testament. His choice of twelve disciples and his promise to them that they would "
sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28//Luke 22:28-30) indicates his acceptance of the end-times reunion of all twelve tribes of Israel, both northern and southern. The saying of Matt. 8:11//Luke 13:29 combines the ideas of the end-times ingathering of the Gentiles of Isa. 49:12 and the end-times banquet of Isa. 25:6-8. It is apparent that several other passages in the Gospels reflect the same cluster of ideas. A similar emphasis is to be found in several passages which deal with the final judgment. In Matt. 25:32 "all the nations" are to be gathered before the throne of the Son of Man and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats which follows spells out criteria for judgment that make Jewish descent irrelevant. Thus Gentiles like the men of Nineveh (Matt. 12:41//Luke 11:32), the people of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 1 l:2I-22//Luke 10:13-14), and even of notorious Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:15//Luke 10:12) may enter the Kingdom while unrepentant Jews will find themselves excluded.

In the third place, there were undoubtedly occasions when Jesus accepted both Gentiles and Samaritans and gave them a share in the coming salvation here and now. There are no good grounds for denying the historicity of Jesus' encounters with the Syrophoenician woman, the Gerasene demoniac, and the centurion of Capernaum. While it is true that in none of these cases does Jesus take the initiative, nevertheless he does accept Gentiles who approach him in faith. In the latter incident Jesus is moved to pronounce the verdict, "
Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith" (Matt. 8:10). It is not just at the end time that Gentiles will be received on equal terms with Jews; that happens in Jesus' ministry. Similarly, a strong case can be made out for Jesus' having regarded the Samaritans in a favorable light (contrary to the prevailing view of his day) and for having healed and helped individual Samaritans.

This is consistent with the widely accepted view that we cannot eliminate the tension between present and future which exists in Jesus' sayings on the Kingdom of God. His position is best defined neither as a wholly futurist end-times, nor a wholly realized end-time, but rather as an inaugurated end-time. For Jesus, God's rule still lies in the future; yet coming events cast their shadow before them and in his words and deeds the Kingdom is already breaking into history. Thus Jesus not only affirms the future ingathering of those outside Israel; in his ministry he accepts Samaritans and Gentiles in addition to Jews.

Jesus did not conceive of a Gentile mission independent of a continuing mission to Israel nor as a sequel to a failed Jewish mission. There is no indication by Jesus in his teachings that a preaching mission to gentiles would have a Torah-free basis, either. It is clear that Jesus intended the mission to Israel to continue into the future, Gentiles would also have the message of the kingdom announced to them and would be given an opportunity to respond. According to Jesus’ intent a Gentile mission rested upon a continuing Jewish mission and did not supersede or replace the witness to Israel.

Did Paul's universal mission to the Gentiles have it's origin in the historical mission of Jesus? There is very little to suggest that it did, in historical or theological context. For instance, when defending his own apostleship and mission, Paul does not maintain that he is modeling himself on the prior example of Jesus; on the contrary, he states that he was charged with initiating and overseeing the Gentile mission by the risen Christ (cf. Gal. 1:12; 16-17). Second, the original Jerusalem Jesus Movement did not in its initial phase conduct a Gentile mission. Acts specifies that its members preached only to Jews and proselytes (2:5, 10, 22, 3:12-13), and this is confirmed by Paul’s witness that the Jerusalem authorities had traditionally been involved only in the Jewish mission and those who would convert (Gal. 2:7-9). We know that the three Pillars of the Jerusalem church, the disciples Peter and John and James the brother of Jesus, were themselves recipients of visitations of the resurrected Lord (1 Cor. 15:5-7). Yet Jesus had not commissioned them to embark on a Gentile mission, nor had he communicated to them that he had commissioned Paul to do so armed with the Law-free gospel. Therefore, because Jesus was not involved in a Gentile mission and this was understood by the members of the original Jerusalem church, then there was no historic teaching for the latter to have communicated such a position to the Hellenists. Because there was no historical influence from Jesus through the Hellenists to Paul who took over the Gentile mission, then there is not any solid proof that Paul's universal mission to the Gentiles had it's origins in the historical mission of Jesus. It is clear that neither of the later Christian Gentile missions (Hellenists or Paul) can be traced back either to the practice or the commandment of the historical Jesus or risen Jesus.

In the immediate post-resurrection period it was the Hellenists who saw the death and resurrection of Christ as the decisive event of salvation history. They were emboldened to preach to Samaritans and the success of that mission both confirmed their view that the time of the end-times reunion of North and South had indeed arrived and prompted them to extend their mission to encompass the end-times ingathering of the Gentiles, and this universal Mission is what Paul took over and continued with.

Of all the missions, only the Law-observant mission to the Jews can be said to have had its origin in the teaching and example of the historical Jesus. The alternative Law-free Jewish mission of the Hellenists had no basis in the practice of the historical Jesus, and there is no evidence that it was revealed to the Hellenists by the risen Lord. The origin of the Law-free Gentile mission is not certain. It clearly did not begin with the historical Jesus, and it is not especially clear that it can be traced back to the risen Christ. Paul is adamant that this was revealed to him at the time of his conversion, but there is good evidence that Paul was first exposed to this mission when he went to Antioch. Furthermore, there is no confirmation of Paul’s claims by others who also experienced the risen one. The Jerusalem church did not include Paul in its official list of resurrection witnesses, and its emissaries in Paul’s churches questioned his apostolic credentials. It is most likely that the Gentile mission originated with the Hellenists in Antioch, not as the result of a divine revelation but as a new missionary initiative occasioned by the failure of their mission to the Jews.








Essay excerpted from:
Michael Bird,
Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission.T & T Clark, 2006
Joseph Klausner,
From Jesus to Paul. Macmillan 1943
Sim, David C.
Competing Missions in the Early Church: The Hebrews, the Hellenists, Paul, the Historical Jesus and the Risen Christ. Australian Catholic University, 2010
Charles Scobie,
Jesus or Paul? The Origin of the Universal Mission of the Christian Church in “From Jesus to Paul”. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 1984
--all rights reserved the respective authors