Friday, November 16, 2012

Pauline Christians vs Judaizers

I've been studying the pastoral epistles for some writing I am trying to do. The particular focus has been the attitude of Paul (or more likely the Pauline Christians who wrote the pastoral epistles) toward scripture in First and Second Timothy and Titus.

Let me try to describe the conundrum succinctly.

Second Timothy says:  "...from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:15-17) 

Presumably the sacred writings or scripture that Timothy would have known from childhood is what we call the Old Testament. Or could the Pauline Christians have been referring to some other writing? It is hard to suppose so since there would be no New Testament as of yet, certainly not when Timothy was a child. 

Titus 1:10 warns about "those of the circumcision," presumably the so-called Judaizers who taught that Gentiles had to follow Jewish law to be saved.  The Pauline Christians say: "For this reason rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths or to commandments of those who reject the truth." (Tit 1:13-4)

Was there a difference between Jewish myths and commandments and the Old Testament? How did the Pauline Christians deal with the parts of the Old Testament that taught circumcision, dietary practices, etc., which they taught were no longer in effect?  

How could they say that all scripture is inspired and authoritative and then say whole portions of it no longer apply? Do you suppose the Pauline Christians thought the Old Testament was on their side in this argument when the Old Testament was very clear about circumcision, what could and couldn't be eaten, and a whole series of practices and rules the Pauline Christians considered no longer valid? 

On the surface of it, the teachings of the Old Testament would have seemed more consistent with the argument of the Judaizers. Yet the Pauline Christians claimed the authority of the scripture for themselves over against the Judaizers.

Do you suppose the Pauline Christians read the Old Testament in the light of Christ in such a way that what the words of the Old Testament actually took on a whole new meaning that transformed the literal meaning of the words? Could they still claim the authority of scripture for their teaching in this manner even though they did not follow Old Testament teachings concerning circumcision, dietary law, sacrifice, etc.?

It appears that Pauline Christians claimed the authority of the Old Testament even though they would not follow many part of it. 

It is hard not to imagine that if you assumed the authority of the Old Testament as scripture, you would have had to be on the side of the Judaizers in this debate.
 Just trying to figure it out.


  1. The best answer has to be the outcome of the Jerusalem Council. Pauline Christians were mostly gentile, which is why Paul and eventually the whole of the early apostolic church discerned that the Spirit was calling non-Jews to convert to Christ, and that Judaism was not a stage in that conversion. It was a do not pass go, do not get circumcised, go straight to Jesus. This is why Paul speaks so much of Abraham being justified by faith and not works, why he restates the circumcision of the heart so forcefully. Douglas Campbell has dealt with a lot of these issues and his work might be helpful for your current study. Peace.

  2. Thanks, pastormack. I'll look up Campbell's work. What I am specifically pondering is how the Pauline Christians intellectually claimed the authority of the Jewish scriptures, and not just in principle, but actually saying "all scripture" or possibly, depending on how you translate it, "each scripture" when it would appear they sort of invalidated significant portions of scripture. I'd like to know the way they thought about that.