It has been claimed that Peter wasn’t writing specifically to believing Jews, because he mentions in 1Peter 2:10 that his readers were in the past “not a people (of God), but now are the people of God.” Paul even uses these words to denote gentiles who were never the people of God (cf. Romans 9:24-25). Paul claims God called the gentiles his people in order to provoke the Jews to jealousy (Romans 10:19; cf. Deuteronomy 32:21). The problem with comparing Peter with Paul and forcing Peter to say what Paul says is: that Paul was sent to the gentiles, but Peter to the Jews. There would, therefore, be obvious differences in their preaching of the Gospel. Read the rest of this entry »
Tag Archives: Paul’s Gospel
A few years ago I published my understanding of Paul’s Gospel, while I was going through the Book of Acts for the second time: What Was Paul’s Gospel? In this blog-post I wish to offer the same point of view from a different perspective. In the first chapter of Galatians Paul offers a glimpse of the Gospel he preached to the gentiles. Although it was somewhat different from that preached by the Twelve, in essence it was the very same Gospel preached at Jerusalem. Notice that in Galatians 1:4 Paul says that he preached that Christ gave himself for our sins in order that we might be delivered from this world. In a nutshell, this is the Gospel, and, as I hope to show here, it was the Gospel preached in Jerusalem, minus the Jewish traditions that the Apostles preached Jews should obey, just as Paul preached gentiles should obey the authorities who governed them. Read the rest of this entry »
It seems apparent to me that the Jerusalem church authorities understood that Paul received a commission from the Lord, but they didn’t understand it. They couldn’t fully embrace it at the time of Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem following his conversion. How do we know that they didn’t fully embrace Paul’s Gospel? It is because Peter needed a special revelation in order to treat gentiles just as he treated Jews (see Acts 10 and 11). Read the rest of this entry »
Luke tells us that when Paul finally returned to Jerusalem after his conversion near Damascus three years previous, the brethren wouldn’t believe he was a true disciple (Acts 9:26). He was under suspicion from all sides. Certainly the high priest who sent him to Damascus knew Paul no longer supported the official understanding of what they referred to as the sect of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5). However, when the brethren wouldn’t receive him as a new believer, Paul found himself alone in a hostile environment with no friends. What happened? Read the rest of this entry »
According to some, Paul’s Gospel was sufficient as it was, and he had no need of the Apostles at Jerusalem to help formulate his Gospel (Galatians 1:15-17). In fact, Paul almost immediately after meeting Jesus on the way to Damascus, left for Arabia, presumably to collect his thoughts and receive instruction (revelation, cp. verses 11-12 & 15-16) from Jesus, the resurrected Messiah, and didn’t return to Jerusalem until three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:18). What really occurred in those three years? Read the rest of this entry »
Paul told the Galatians that he had stayed with Peter at Jerusalem for fifteen days (Galatians 1:18), immediately following his escape from Damascus, and the three years since his dramatic life-changing experience with Jesus. Someone in Galatia was claiming Paul’s Gospel was learned from the original 12 Apostles and therefore should be subservient to what they taught the Jews. On the other hand, Paul’s point was he was specifically called by Christ and, seeing that he spent three years in Arabia and Damascus before he sought a meeting with Peter, how could the two weeks he spent with him be construed to mean he was dependent upon him or any of the original Twelve for his Gospel? If we can agree with this conclusion, we may then ask, what was discussed between these two men? I think we can be assured it wasn’t the weather. Read the rest of this entry »
Did you ever wonder how Paul first began to understand the circumcision doctrine that so identified Pauline theology? Well, immediately following his heavenly vision, Paul went into Arabia. More than likely he spent some time in the synagogues in various cities he visited there. Paul already knew the Nabataeans were near relatives to the Jews, descending from Ishmael, the son of Abraham by Hagar, Sarah’s slave. He would have found, if he didn’t know already, Nabataeans were more easily won over as proselytes to Judaism there than in other Gentile countries in the empire. Why was this so? No doubt it was because of the Nabataean’s disposition toward the Jewish practice of circumcision. Being descended from Abraham, circumcision was not rejected, as it was in other Gentile countries. It was already practiced, but not under compulsory conditions as in Judea and Galilee. Nabataeans were more or less indifferent toward the practice.
Paul must have reflected upon this while he was in Arabia. Certainly in the 2 to 2 ½ years he spent there, he had time to familiarize himself with the local customs. Meeting Nabataean proselytes and speaking to Jewish brethren there, circumcision would have been discussed and its ease of acceptance among the Gentiles living there as opposed to the Jew’s western neighbors throughout the Roman Empire. What would Paul have thought about this? Here were people who sporadically practiced the act of circumcision—the sign of righteousness—but were they righteous? By Jewish standards, of course they weren’t. For the Nabataeans, circumcision had lost all its significance. Many had the “sign” of righteousness in their bodies, but that is as far as it had gone. If circumcision was merely an outward sign, meant to indicate a spiritual reality, would the physical act be necessary at all? Thus with further reflection, Paul would remember that Abraham was **declared** righteous before the act of circumcision was performed (Romans 4:9-10)! No doubt it was not a giant leap in understanding for Paul, the rabbi, to see Abraham could then be seen as the father of those who believe—Jews or Gentiles, circumcised or not—because the act of circumcision was merely the “sign” of a deeper spiritual reality.
Paul must have grappled with understanding things like circumcision while he was in Arabia, because from the very beginning of his Gospel—it is there; not so, for the other apostles. Paul had to formulate a foundation for what he would preach to the Gentiles to whom he was sent by the Lord, which we see in Paul’s heavenly vision. Paul may have had some memory of Jesus in Jerusalem and even some idea of the Jesus traditions through disciples he interrogated, but all this was second hand. He had to formulate a clarified foundation for his own mission to the Jews and Gentile sympathizers. This is where his scholarship training at the feet of Gamaliel came into play. It would be only natural for Paul, the rabbi, but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to question the practice of circumcision as a godly command, while he was yet in Arabia. There he dwelled among those who often practiced the sign of righteousness without it having any spiritual significance in their lives.
Paul’s Gospel is rooted here. His visit to Nabataea was not so much a mission to the Gentiles as it was a mission for the Gentiles. Paul’s visit to Arabia was in reality a mission to Gentiles, yes, but for himself. And, because of what Jesus taught him through the Gentiles there, he could later conclude he was a debtor to them (Romans 1:14).
In Romans, one of Paul’s final letters, we would find him still preaching the very things he considered in these three years between his heavenly vision and his first visit to Jerusalem. His theology wasn’t gradually understood. It was known, accepted and preached by him from the time he first preached it in Damascus and had to run for his life. It is taught from his first letter to the Galatians to his final letter while in prison at Rome. This was “his” Gospel which he learned of the Lord while visiting Arabia immediately after his heavenly vision.