Apostle Paul and the Book of Deuteronomy:

It has long been recognized that Deuteronomy, Isaiah and the Psalms were the most frequently quoted parts of the Bible by the writers of the New Testament.  In a new book, David Lincicum evaluates Paul's use of Deuteronomy in his writings. 

Mohr Siebeck, the publishers, provide the following comments on the new title:

Attending to the realia of ancient practices for reading Scripture, David Lincicum charts the effective history of Deuteronomy in a broad range of early Jewish authors in antiquity. By viewing Paul as one example of this long history of tradition, the apostle emerges as a Jewish reader of Deuteronomy. In light of his transformation by encounter with the risen Christ, Paul's interpretation of the end of the Pentateuch alternates between the traditional and the radical, but remains in conversation with his Jewish rough contemporaries. Specifically, Paul is seen to interpret Deuteronomy with a threefold construal as ethical authority, theological norm, and a lens for the interpretation of Israel's history. In this way, the volume sets Paul firmly in the history of Jewish biblical interpretation and at the same time provides a wide-ranging survey of the impact of Deuteronomy in antiquity.

Lincicum's work appears to chart some new territory in the appreciation of Paul's writing that grounds him in a first century Jewish tradition rather than the creator of some new religion as he has so often being portrayed.

Tags: new testament, Apostle Paul, Old Testament, Judaism, Mohr Siebeck, David Lincicum, use of Deuteronomy

What did the Readers of the Gospel of Mark understand?

Can an examination of an Implied Reader help us understand Mark's view of Jesus' teaching?

This year, a consultation entitled: “Sabbath in Text, Tradition, and Theology” was held at the Society of Biblical Literature.  I was able to attend one of the sessions which was styled, The Sabbath in the New Testament

Tom Shepherd, of Andrews University presented a paper on the Gospel of Mark which asked the question, how the implied reader of Mark’s Gospel was to understand the references to the Sabbath day included in the Gospel.  As we read Mark today, we notice that when the Sabbath is mentioned, Jesus or Mark does not seek to educate the reader about the Sabbath Day.  That detail was expected to be known.  It is a surprise to many people today to realize that the first followers of Jesus all observed the Sabbath.  Mark’s Gospel is clearly written with that in view.

What Mark seeks to convey is the teaching of Jesus about the Sabbath day and how it should be properly kept as opposed to the accretion of traditions that people had imposed.  In Mark 2 and 3, two incidents relating to the Sabbath are provided.  Because of the way that the book has been divided into chapters and verses, long after the Gospel had been written, we can easily lose sight of the message being conveyed.  Mark presents Jesus as providing proper understanding for the listeners.  In the two cases, the instruction is given in response to a question.  Firstly the religious leaders asked one of Jesus (2:23-28), in the second, the roles are reversed.  Jesus asks the question of the leaders (3:1-5). The results of the two questions are not the abrogation of the Sabbath commands, but an understanding of the standards that Jesus and by extension, the Father expect in the Sabbath observance.

Of the seven occurrences of the term Sabbath in the Gospel of  Mark, two record Jesus teaching in the Synagogue on the Sabbath Day (Mark 1:21, 6:1).  The consequence of both occasions was recorded as public amazement at the quality of teaching of Jesus.  Between these two Synagogue events, we have the teaching provided about the Sabbath in chapter 2 & 3, as though they are sandwiched between the two events to give the reader an insight into the reasons for the reaction to the teaching.  So easily overlooked is the fact that in both cases, they seek to undo the tradition associated with the Sabbath and not the Sabbath itself.  This would have been ideal place for Jesus to describe the Sabbath as being redundant, or for Mark writing years after the death of Jesus to editorialize that this was now all changed because the church now kept Sunday in memorial of His resurrection.  Such is not the case.

Actually, we find the followers of Jesus, including the Apostle Paul, keeping the Sabbath and Festivals along with the rest of the Jewish community.  The Scriptures such as Acts 20:7-11 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 which have long been used to justify Sunday observance have nothing to do with worship or Sabbath or Sunday keeping.  The use of Sunday rather than the Sabbath as a time of meeting probably did not  get traction among people until the second century, and certainly was not fully established in congregations until the end of the 4th Century.

Jesus together with his disciples and those who followed him kept the Sabbath faithfully as they had been instructed. The concepts about the Sabbath and its non application to Christians is a latter idea that has no apostolic or Biblicala basis.

Tags: Apostle Paul, Jesus Christ, Gospel of Mark, Sabbath

The Ever-Changing Apostle Paul

Just how much is his teaching appreciated?

Paul has emerged in part from the strictures of his Reformation role: the New Perspective on Paul has rehabilitated him as a Jew within his day. Yet for many, there is a reluctance to ask the hard questions, and even in the New Perspective he remains the basis for our understanding of christianity.

For many, asking the ultimate question of Paul undermines the very foundation of their view of christianity. For Paul to remain totally as a Jew and be observant of the Torah with all its implications creates an uncomfortable position. If Paul didn’t legitimate christian behaviour and practice, who did? Most evangelical christians still require a biblical justification for their beliefs. But the concept that later Church Fathers and Church Councils changed the biblical requirements is not an acceptable ideal unless you are part of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or possibly an Anglican tradition.

Of recent date a number of scholars have been pushing the envelope on Paul. Mark Nanoshas written a paper titled The Myth of the 'Law-Free' Paul Standing between Christians and Jews in which he claims that Paul was a Torah-observant individual and expected those who followed him to do likewise. In an abstract of the paper which was published in Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations, Nanos contrasts his view of Paul with the traditional view. He states:

Christians and Jews agree that the Apostle Paul did not observe Torah as a matter of faith, or in his daily life, except when he sought to evangelize among Jews who observed Torah. This perspective and the reasoning provided to explain it conceptualize the essential difference between Christianity and Judaism as revolving around Paul and his supposedly "Law-free Gospel," more so than around Jesus and his teachings. This understanding derives from the perception that Paul did not observe Jewish dietary norms, and that, moreover, he taught other Christ-followers not to observe them. This essay engages the primary texts on which this is based (Gal 2:11-15; 1 Cor 8—10; Rom 14—15) and finds that, contrary to the prevailing view, they show that Paul implicitly and even explicitly supported Jewish dietary norms among Christ-followers. The results challenge centuries of interpretation, with broad implications for Christian and Jewish portrayals of Paul and of the supposed foundations for differences that require and provide strategies of "othering" that continue to pose obstacles to progress in Christian-Jewish relations.

Nanos is not alone in espousing such views. Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan have just published a book—The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon (HarperOne 2009)—challenging many of the stereotypes of Paul and reshaping his image. Pamela Eisenbaum goes even further with her latest titled Paul Was Not A Christian (HarperOne 2009). From being championed as the founder of christianity a generation ago, he is now presented as not even a recognizable christian!

What do these ideas mean to the average person? Probably very little. If they are exercised by them at all, the ideas probably add to the general skepticism with which so many now consider Scripture. However it is not the Scripture that is the problem. It is the way in which biblical figures as Paul have been reinterpreted by writers over the centuries to legitimize the behavior, position and outlooks that the writer held. We at Vision have long held that Paul was Torah-observant and required those who listened to and accepted his teachings, whether Jew or gentile, to follow the example of Jesus Christ. For an example of this understanding, view our video, The Quest for the Real Paul.

At Vision we compliment Mark Nanos and others who are trying to see Paul within his own culture, rather than one two millennia removed.


Tags: vision, Apostle Paul, Mark Nanos, Pamela Eisenbaum

What Happened to the Feast of Unleavened Bread or 'Hag Hamatsot'?

Why was it conflated into the Passover celebration?

At some point in time, the events of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread came to be called by a common name and literally merged into one event of eight days. It is normally considered that the conflation of the two events, outlined in Exodus 12 and Leviticus 23 came about as a result of the Rabbis, as suggested by R. Joshua Maroof in his blog Vesom Sechel.  R. George Wolf, whom I quoted last week, takes a more specific view.  In addressing this issue he opines: 

Who was responsible for this new name and the creation of a new Pesach liturgy of Haggadah for the new Pesach festival?  It was Rabban Gamaliel II of Yavne, (80-115 C.E.), the Nasi, who wished to preserve the unity of the Jewish people and halt the inroads of Pauline Christianity. In order to replace the centralized sacrificial cult, he supervised the creation of a non-sacrificial prayer service. The Pesach liturgy or Haggadah, served as a replacement for the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb and was also a defense of Judaism against the Pauline interpretation of the Pesach festival.         

The redaction of a Haggadah for the new Pesach home festival provided Jews with an official and authentic interpretation and expression of this festival’s ceremonies and theology transmitted by tradition from Moses and the Prophets to the Pharisaic Rabbis. 

It demonstrated to Jews that the destruction of the Temple was only a temporary situation and didn’t reflect a change in God’s relationship with the Jewish people, namely that God’s old covenant or promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was still in force and was not abrogated by the new covenant. 

The new name Pesach was chosen because it meant protection, to emphasize to Jews that they were still under God’s protection, as they were during their sojourn in Egyptian bondage.[1]

In taking such a view of the change Wolf highlights a major issue. Certainly Paul commanded the Corinthian church to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (1 Corinthians 5:6-8), so where does the idea of Paul being anti-Torah and not requiring gentiles to observe Jewish dietary and festival obligations come from?

If Wolf is correct in his interpretation, ‘Pauline’ theology at the end of the century was a very different theology from what is considered Pauline theology today!  It would then present a situation in which those churches established by Paulwho died in the early 60’s some 24 -30 years prior to the events Wolf addresseswould have been indistinguishable from other groups who are commonly called Jewish Christians.  Hence the commonly supposed opposition of Paul and James would have been a fiction as well. Wolf presents a uniform view of the first century followers as being Torah observant in a way that few Christian scholars today would be prepared to accept. 

[1]George Wolf, Lexical and Historical Contributions on the Biblical and

Rabbinic Passover (New York: G. Wolf, 1991), 38–39.

Tags: Apostle Paul, First Century, Passover, Corinthians, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Gamaliel II, George Wolf, Pesach, Yavne

Paul the Jew

New considerations about the context of Paul's usage of Torah

The Apostle Paul and his writings have increasingly been of prominence at the annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature, held each November. Currently, abstracts of papers to be presented this year are being made available. Here is one that is of great interest which was posted today on Torrey Seland on his Philo of Alexandria Blog.

Markus Tiwald, University of Vienna Paul: 
Apostle of Christ and Jew
The interpretation of the “Tora” – and all that was included in this very complex expression – was the central topic in early Judaism and was handled in a wide range of different theological concepts. The diversity of these concepts can be highlighted by the differing theology in the scriptures of Qumran, Jewish pseudepigrapha and the writings of Philo and Josephus. According to these results it can be shown, that the theology of the apostle Paul has to be understood as an inner-Jewish dialogue about the right fulfillment and interpretation of scripture – but not as an “abrogation of the Tora”, as often suggested by some exegetes. Paul was Jew – and he remained Jew also in his Christian times. As a Christian he did not abrogate the Tora, but adopted the position of a liberal Tora-interpretation that was already present in early Judaism.

This is a valuable topic as Paul is so often seen and read outside of the Jewish milieu from which he came.

Tags: Apostle Paul, First Century, Qumran, Paul, Philo, Josephus, Law, Nomos, Torah

Why Paul Changed His Name

Was there a reason for the change of Saul to Paul?

The New Testament records in Acts 13 that Saul changed his name to Paul. Why did he do this? Many commentators have sought to find the answer in the help that Sergius Paulus, governor of Cyprus, provided to Saul and Barnabas on their first journey there. While it is possible that respect and gratitude inspired Saul to take the governor’s name, it seems unlikely based on a number of other intersecting facts.


Scott M. McDonough proposed recently in the Journal of Biblical Literature (Vol. 125, No. 2, pp. 390–391) that Acts 13 holds the key. This chapter contains the only reference in the New Testament to Israel’s first king, Saul, the son of Kish. There is more than one commonality between Paul/Saul and the ancient king. King Saul persecuted David, whom God had anointed to replace him. In a similar way, Saul persecuted the one he later understood to be the true Son of David. By changing his name from Saul to Paul, he distanced himself from the actions and mindset of his namesake. 


The choice of the Latin name “Paulus” is instructive as well. The word means “little” or, when referring to a person, “short.” Whether this is a description of Paul’s physical characteristics is not stated, but it has an application to both King Saul and King David. When chosen to be king, Saul was known to stand head and shoulders above his compatriots. But his physical stature was of no consequence to his ability as king. He was only effective in that role when he was “little in [his] own eyes,” or opinion (1 Samuel 15:17). When David was anointed king, his father, Jesse, referred to him as “the youngest” (1 Samuel 16:11). The Hebrew word used here is the same one used earlier to describe Saul’s initial view of himself as “little.” McDonough suggests that the choice of the name “Paulus” is a play on this description of King Saul and his successor, King David. Paul wanted to be known by his namesake’s good quality rather than by his name.



Tags: new testament, Apostle Paul, Saul, Scott McDonough, Sergius Paulus

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