Is Paul anti-Semitic? Does God play fair?

Is Paul anti-Semitic?  Does God play fair?

Paul’s letter to the Roman’s is difficult.  One reason is because Paul seems uncomfortable with a couple of his own conclusions.  But one thing is clear.  It is the most sustained statement of Paul’s theology (Moo, loc 4011-4019).  But what is that?

One theme concerns the relationship between Jews for Jesus and Gentiles for Jesus.  The Jews came first, they remain God’s chosen people, but they remain stuck on the law.  God is not concerned with the law.  He is concerned with faith and justification.

Another theme is God’s wrath, as well as his caprice.  How could God hate Esau before he was born (Romans 9:13)? (The Greek term used for hate is misei, and should not be rendered by a weaker verb.  See Strongs 3404).  What sense does that make?

A related theme is that it’s all up to God.  We deserve nothing; whatever we get is due to the loving generosity of God.

What strikes me most is how Paul seems to struggle with the answers he comes up with, not always liking their implications, but with the result that his explanation is even more troubling. 

Jews and Gentiles

For Paul, two things are striking about the Jews.  They were and remain God’s chosen people.  Abraham and the other patriarchs of the Hebrew Scriptures remain sacred to God (11:26).  At the same time, Jews have taken a wrong turn.  They zealously trust in the law, by which Paul means not only the Ten Commandments, but the purity codes spelled out in Leviticus and elsewhere.

Often times Paul is simply read as an argument for faith over works, but that’s too simple.  By works Paul meant (as Luther meant) the works of the law.  And faith is only revealed by the works of the spirit.  Without the works of the law we would not know sin; but we are redeemed by faith.  We need both; they are not exclusive.

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Paul, the first Jew for Jesus

Paul, the first Jew for Jesus

The apostle Paul has gotten a bad rap.  He is supposedly anti-Semitic, anti-woman, anti-gay, and anti-sex.  This reputation is undeserved.  In some ways he was more socially revolutionary that Jesus.  Not more revolutionary than Christ in terms of thought, the Word and deed, but more concerned with social revolution as the beginning of a new age.  Contrary to his reputation, Paul does not want people to stay in their places, or at least it’s a lot more complex than that. 

The main reason for this misunderstanding is that almost half of Paul’s letters are now considered forgeries of varying quality. 

Real letters: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans. 

Forged letters: Colossians, Ephesians, Titus, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, 2 Thessalonians.

Several legitimate letters are probably composites of additional Pauline letters.  Furthermore, later scribes seemed to have felt free to make additions, especially concerning Paul’s attitude toward women (Wright, pp. 80-81, 424-425; Wills, pp 89-104).  Finding the real Paul is a task in itself.

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