Reposted from the Kineti blog and authored by Judah Gabriel Himango, one of Tabernacle of David’s teachers.
I’m blown away by Paul’s theological thunder in Romans 2.
In it, Paul says:
- God judges people by their actions; it’s not enough to believe. (vs. 6)
- Jewish people have divine priority, both in blessing and judgment (vs 9, 10)
- People who practice the Torah will be justified by God. (vs. 13)
- The Torah is the embodiment of truth (vs. 20)
- Breaking the Torah shames God’s reputation (vss. 23, 4)
- Non-Jews who keep the Torah are better than Jews who break it.(vs. 27)
- God’s people Israel includes non-Jews who keep the Torah. (vss. 27, 28, 29)
- Authentic Jews are Jews who do what the Torah says and walk in a path of integrity. (vss. 28, 29)
In the church, we so often get laser focused on Paul’s warning against religious Torah hypocrisy (vss. 21-24), that we forget he’s still pro-Torah.
In Paul’s usage here, “Torah” doesn’t especially mean things like kosher and tzitzit and what we often think of Torah. We know this because his argument is that gentiles who never heard of the Torah do by nature the things of the Torah. (And gentiles without Torah aren’t wearing tzitzit!)
So, what is he talking about when he says gentiles keeping Torah? He’s talking about the basic ethical morality – Torah basics – that are ingrained in every human being. Knowing that murder, rape, cruelty, theft, etc. are wicked, despite never having read the Torah.
These Torah basics are inscribed by God on the human conscience. Non-Jews who keep them are better than Jews who break them. (Hence, Jews like Harvey Weinstein are not destined for God’s Kingdom – they know Torah but actively break it without remorse or repentance. Meanwhile, non-Jews who love God and love their neighbor will see God.
Is this an anti-Jewish message? Hardly. Paul comes to the climax of his argument in verses 28 and 29, saying that the authentic Jewish person is one who keeps the commandments of God. Talks and walks Torah.
Prolific Jewish Bible scholar and author Mark Nanos – himself a Reform Jew – argues that passages like Paul’s letter to Rome demonstrate that Paul wasn’t outside of Judaism and Jewish thought, but rather, he was a Jew within Judaism promoting a new kind of Messiah-based Apostolic Judaism:
“I remain focused on investigating the implications for Jewish-Christian relations of my reading of Paul as a Torah-observant Jew founding Jewish subgroup communities. These “assemblies [ekklesias]” were attracting some non-Jews, but nevertheless dedicated to practicing and promoting Judaism for non-Jews as well as Jews. In other words, I propose to that we should be investigating Paul’s Judaism in the intra-communal context of other Jewish groups, including other groups of followers of Jesus, which together with Paul’s groups represented a coalition we might describe as Apostolic Judaism.
Nanos may be on to something. Paul reads to me as a pro-Torah, pro-Jewish, pro-Israel apostle of Jesus. Maybe Nanos is right; maybe Paul has been misread in the Christian world for a great deal of time, maybe even going as far to say Paul was promoting a kind of Judaism for Jews and non-Jews.
Returning to Paul’s Jewish context changes the way we read him.