Paul within Messiah, Torah, and Judaism

Paul’s allegiance to Yeshua (Jesus) is often thought to have impelled him to break with Judaism and the Torah (Law).  This article advances a contrary position to the traditional view, maintaining that Paul remained within Judaism.  In writing about circumcision, Sabbath, Jewish dietary laws and meat offered to idols, Paul accepted the authority of Scripture and the obligation for Yeshua’s followers to observe Torah commandments.  He distinguished the obligations of Jews and Gentiles.  After the Jewish War, the Gentile Yeshua-believers increasingly separated from Jewish Yeshua-believers.  The understanding of Paul’s relationship to Torah and Judaism changed with the changed social setting.

Paul within Messiah

Paul was passionately attached to Yeshua.  He identified himself to the ekklesia (church) at Rome as an apostle, but firstly as a slave of Messiah Yeshua (Rom 1:1). An important aspect of this identification is the language of being in Messiah.  “If anyone is in Messiah, there is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:5).  “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua” (Rom 8:1).  “I have been crucified with Messiah and it is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me” (Gal 2:19).

For as many of you as were baptized into Messiah have put on Messiah.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua.  And if you are Messiah’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:27-29).


Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Messiah Yeshua were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of God, we too might walk in newness of life… . You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Messiah Yeshua (Rom 6:3-4, 11).


The ekklesia is the body of Messiah (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 10:17, 1 Cor 12; cf. Eph 5:30; Col 1:18).  Anyone who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him (1 Cor 6:17), and the Lord is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17).  Thus, those who are joined to Messiah live by the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, and pray in the Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in them, fills them, prays through them and works in them.  To be in Messiah is to have one’s life conformed to the self-giving love enacted in the crucifixion stake,[1] “always carrying in the body the death of Yeshua, so that the life of Yeshua may also be made visible in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:10).

Paul’s Law Observance

Paul’s teaching about the Law was from an early time interpreted in diverse ways (Acts 21: 21-26; Rom 3:8; 2 Pet 3:16).  It is the pivot around which the Church has understood its own relationship to the Law.  Contrasting interpretations of Paul’s view of the Law are plausible, depending upon the paradigm in which one works.   The hypothesis that Paul remained within Judaism and observed the Torah is foundational to a paradigm that can account for various issues better than other starting points; it is more likely to be true than the opposite hypothesis.  It is allied with a host of decisions about who Paul addressed in his letters, what problems were most important to Paul, the sources of his disputes with several apostles and Jewish communities, and so on.

Magnus Zetterholm distinguishes between three current approaches to Paul:  the traditional view exemplified by Luther, what James Dunn called “the New Perspective on Paul,” and what Zetterholm calls “the radical new perspective.”  Unlike the first two approaches, the radical new perspective assumes Paul belonged to first-century Judaism-not that he left it.

Paul was by his own testimony sent as apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 2:9; Rom 1:5).  He was a Hebrew born of Hebrews, formerly a persecutor of the church, later himself persecuted because he did not circumcise Gentiles who turned to God through Yeshua (Gal 5:11).  Paul was formerly a Pharisee beyond reproach (Gal 1:13; Phil 3:3-6), and perhaps remained a Pharisee (cf. Acts 23:6), even if whatever he had gained he counted as loss for the sake of knowing Messiah (Phil 3:7-8).  He wrote that the gospel he preached upheld the Law (Rom 3:31).  That Paul was repeatedly punished by Jewish authorities (2 Cor 11:24) proves that they considered Paul within the Jewish community and that he continued to associate with the Jewish community.

Paul believed that his circumcision-free ministry to Gentiles was profoundly scriptural.  The Servant of God is sent as a light to the Gentiles (Isa 49:5-6; 51:4).  At the end of days many peoples will seek to walk in God’s ways (Isa 2:2-4; 56:6-8), without, apparently, becoming Jews.  The wealth of the Gentiles will flow into Jerusalem (Isa 60:5-16; 61:6).  Paul’s collection from among the Gentiles, destined for Jerusalem (Rom 15:16, 25-27; 1 Cor 16:1-4), illustrates his belief.  The fullness of the Gentiles (Rom 11:25), prophesied in Scripture, was unfolding through Messiah.

Paul sees the Yeshua movement fulfilling God’s promise to make Abraham father of many nations (Romans 4; Galatians 3).  God who is one is God of both Jews and Gentiles (Rom 3:29-30).  Like many Jews, Paul believed that masses of Gentiles would turn to God at the end of days and associate with Israel.  The role of Israel as light to the nations was so Jewish that Paul expected some of his non-Yeshua-believing compatriots to be jealous of his ministry (Rom 11:13-14).  Unlike most Jews, Paul believed that Yeshua was the Messiah and that the messianic era had come (1 Cor 10:11).  His polemic against the Law was in the service of the equality of Gentiles and Jews within the ekklesia.

In the traditional view or the New Perspective on Paul, he inconsistently observed Jewish dietary laws and other “ceremonial” aspects of the Torah.  Passages in which Paul writes that Jewishness is inconsequential or erased in Messiah are commonly used to interpret instances of his Torah observance as merely expedient.  This section offers a different interpretation of Paul.

Luke relates that Paul circumcised Timothy prior to taking him on a missionary journey (Acts 16:1-3).  Timothy’s mother was a Jewish woman who believed in Yeshua.  Paul circumcised Timothy because the Jews where they were going knew that Timothy’s father was a Greek.  Exegetes commonly reason that Paul himself was indifferent to circumcision.  However, this interpretation ill fits the literary context.

Timothy’s circumcision occurs as Paul prepares to deliver the Jerusalem Decree to cities in Asia Minor (Acts 16:4).  The apostles decided that Gentiles are not required to be circumcised, but implicitly agreed that Jews are to be circumcised (Acts 15).  Luke thus suggests that Timothy was a Jew.  Likely he had not been circumcised earlier because of opposition from his father.  Now the time had come to fulfill his covenantal responsibility, thus implementing the Jerusalem Council decision that Jews remain Jews and Gentiles remain Gentiles.  Luke informs readers in advance that the charge that Paul teaches Jews not to circumcise their sons is false (Acts 21:21). Circumcision “because of the Jews who were in those places” (16:3) probably means that the timing but not the act of circumcision was an expedient.[2]

Later, Luke narrates how Paul implemented James’ advice which was intended to demonstrate that Paul was consistently Torah observant.  Paul agrees to purify himself with four men who are fulfilling a Nazirite vow, and to pay for their sacrifices in the Temple (Acts 21:17-26).  Lest Gentiles misinterpret this action to mean that they too are obligated to Torah observance, James refers back to the Jerusalem Decree (21:25).

Among commentators who uphold the historical reliability of Acts, many nevertheless explain Paul’s actions as meaning something other than Torah commitment.  Jerome accused Paul of hypocrisy; Harnack accused him of inconsistency.  Others allege that James trapped Paul in order to get rid of him, still others that James and Paul tried to fool naïve Jewish followers of Yeshua.  There is no direct evidence in Acts for these theories.[3] Instead, Paul’s Torah commitment in Acts is compatible with Paul’s letters.

Some scholars consider Paul’s purification in the Temple to be an illustration of his principle of accommodation described in First Corinthians 9:19-23.  Yet, Acts 21 is problematic as an example of accommodation.  It is wrong to engage in an activity designed to clarify misimpressions and create the impression of being Torah observant, if that is untrue.  To demonstrate that Paul is observant only in the presence of observant Jews is a dodge.  Paul himself denies that the end justifies the means (Rom 3:7-8; 2 Cor 4:2).

At First Corinthians 7:19, Galatians 5:6 and 6:15, Paul declares that circumcision is nothing, while keeping the commandments, faith working through love, or a new creation are what counts.  Paul’s valuation of Jewish rites can be determined by comparison with other passages where he uses hyperbole.  Paul writes that neither he nor Apollos are anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Cor 3:5-7).  Paul means that relative to God’s work, their work is inconsequential.  But it is not really nothing.  Paul says he is not inferior to the super-apostles, even though he is nothing (2 Cor 12:11).  Again, Moses’ ministry had a real splendor, but compared to the ministry of the Spirit in Paul’s day, it was as if it had no splendor (2 Cor 3:6-11).[4]

Paul referred to whatever he had gained as a Jew as rubbish (Phil 3:8).  A common interpretation is that Paul had abandoned commitment to Torah observance.  However, Paul could mean that, without abandoning the covenant, he had left behind a form of Pharisaic Judaism that included violent persecution of the ekklesia (Gal 1:13; Phil 3:6), the Pharisaic interpretation of ritual purity laws, and separation from Gentile sinners.  His earlier life included advancing in Judaism beyond many of his own age in the traditions of his people.  These gains were actually something (cf. Rom 3:1-2), yet they were nothing by comparison with knowing Messiah.

In places, Paul seems to suggest that Yeshua-believers are a third race apart from Jews and Gentiles (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 10:32).  However, he refers to Yeshua-believing Jews as Jews and Yeshua-believing Gentiles as Gentiles (1 Cor 1:24; 12:13; Gal 2:3, 12, 14; Rom 11:13; Eph 2:11; Col 4:10-11; Acts 21:39, 22:3).  Instead of total separation, Yeshua-believers are a third group overlapping the rest of the Jews and Gentiles.  Indeed, Paul often prefers to name humanity as “circumcision and foreskin” instead of “Jew and Gentile.”  Probably, as in Philo, Josephus, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Jubilees, “circumcision” for Paul usually means living a Jewish life.[5]

In First Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul describes circumcision and foreskin as divine callings.  Elsewhere, he avers that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Rom 11:28-29).  Paul likely writes “keeping the commandments of God” (1 Cor 7:19) because the commandments differ for Jews and Gentiles, just as their callings differ.  The point of the circumcision/foreskin illustration may be that Paul wants the Corinthians to consider marriage and celibacy each as good callings.[6]

Further evidence of Paul’s Torah observance is his legal reasoning.  In his letters to Gentile churches, Paul uses halakha (legal rulings) from Yeshua,[7] from apostolic sources,[8] from the wider Jewish world,[9] and possibly formulates a halakha himself (1 Cor 10:25-27).  Peter Tomson notes, “Pervasiveness of halakha in thought logically implies observance of halakha in life.”[10]

E.P. Sanders exemplifies scholars who have overlooked the implications of Galatians 5:3 for Paul’s own observance.  Sanders addresses Hans Hubner’s claim that Paul thought the Law must be observed without exception-but Paul believes no one can keep it.  Sanders counters:


It would, in short, be extraordinarily un-Pharisaic and even un-Jewish of Paul to insist that obedience of the law, once undertaken, must be perfect [….]  He must hold that the law is too hard to do adequately and that there is no atonement.  Yet it is granted on all hands that, in the extant correspondence, he never states either view explicitly.  Hubner and others must hold that the view that the law cannot be fulfilled is presupposed by Gal 3:10 and 5:3 as something too obvious to need explicit statement.  But for this to hold good as an explanation, they would also have to maintain that Paul, while arguing on the basis of his Jewish suppositions, also presupposes that atonement is not possible.  My argument is that none of this would have been obvious to someone of Paul’s background.  In fact, it would have been unheard of.[11]


This critique is right,[12] but does not go far enough.  Paul’s polemic assumes the validity of the Law for Jews.      In the midst of passionate argument against Yeshua-believing Gentiles converting to Judaism, Paul uses the fact of his own Torah observance to argue against Gentile Torah observance.  “I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire Law.” (Gal 5:3)  The logic of his argument requires Paul himself to be observant.[13] Otherwise his readers might retort that they could be circumcised without being obligated to the Law-just like Paul.  Jews are to remain Jews and Gentiles are to remain Gentiles (1 Cor 7:17-20).  In Romans 3:29-20, such difference is implied by the argument that God is God of both Jews and Gentiles.[14]

Many theologians consider First Corinthians 9:19-23 incompatible with consistent Torah observance.  If Paul “became as” a Jew, he must not have been one.  If Paul was “not under the Law” he was not living under the authority of the Mosaic Law.  However, this view has difficulties.  Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, exegetes frequently propose a different meaning for “under the Law.”[15] Paul writes (1 Cor 9:21) that he is “not without the Law of God” but “in Messiah’s Law.”  There is thus reason to interpret “became as” to mean association with different people, even to the extent of behavior change, but not inconsistent Torah observance. Paul likely means by “not without the Law of God” that he remains fully Torah observant among Gentiles.  This would agree with his rule that Jews remain Jews and Gentiles remain Gentiles.

Pauline Teaching about Food and Table Fellowship


All early church authorities prohibit food which had been offered to idols.  Many commentators, however, think Paul bans it under some circumstances, but allows the Corinthians to eat cult offerings in their homes.[16] These scholars assume Paul’s statement, “Why should my liberty be subject?” (1 Cor 10:29) to be his assertion of freedom from Jewish law.

Comparison with Jewish thought suggests otherwise.  Paul shared the Jewish attitude that idols exist only in the minds of their devotees, but that things connected with idolatry nevertheless remain prohibited.  Consequently, it leads one to examine the consciousness[17] of pagans.

First Corinthians 7 opens, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote,” followed by a quotation of correspondence with Paul.  In the eighth chapter, the apostle cites the Corinthians’ arguments to allow eating idol offering, interspersed with his responses prohibiting it.[18] Paul is not inconsistent, but ruling on how to define idol meat in uncertain cases.

A Corinthian Yeshua-believer had two reasons to doubt that meat from the marketplace is idol food.  First, Paul probably advocated a minority and lenient position among Jews, similar to that of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi.  Rabbi Judah ruled that food offered to idols did not have to be explicitly desecrated by the idolater to become permissible; implicit desecration by knowingly selling the food to a person who did not believe in the idol was sufficient.[19] Second, the meat may never have been offered to an idol and thus does not need to be desecrated.  Absent an explicit intention toward idolatry, one can assume without asking questions about consciousness that no such intention exists (1 Cor 10:25).  Even if someone considers the doubtful meat to be prohibited, this consciousness is not determinative.  A public blessing to the true God expresses and enacts freedom from the power of idolatry.[20] However, if the host explicitly says the meat was offered to idols, one cannot eat it (10:28).  One must flee from idols (10:14); one cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons (10:21).

In this light, the Incident at Antioch (Gal 2:11-21) was not a dispute about whether Yeshua-believing Jews could eat biblically forbidden food, but whether they ought to eat with Yeshua-believing Gentiles.   If, as traditionally thought, Peter had been eating non-kosher food, and then changed diet along with other Yeshua-believing Jews of Antioch when those from James arrived, the Jews would have had the power to set the diet for communal meals.  The Gentile Yeshua-believers could have stayed or withdrawn from a meal of kosher food, whereas Paul writes instead that the Jewish Yeshua-believers withdrew from the Gentiles.  Paul presumably introduced the Antioch story to persuade his Galatian audience that his position was normative for Yeshua-believers.  It could not have had this function if the story showed that the Jerusalem church rejected the previous agreement with Paul that Gentiles who come to faith in Yeshua are to remain Gentiles.[21]

Several plausible explanations for the Antioch Incident assume Torah observance by Paul and Peter.  Peter was accused of living like a Gentile both when he ate with them and after he stopped eating with them.  Peter was living like a Gentile not because he had given up Jewish dietary laws, but because his life stood for the inclusion of the Gentiles among the people of God before the age to come.[22] It was common in Greco-Roman and Jewish society for dinner guests to be seated hierarchically (cf. Luke 14:7-11).  Possibly, treating Gentiles as equals during meals was a factor in the Antioch Incident.[23]

Perhaps the circumcision faction (Gal 2:12) were non-Yeshua-believing Jews in Antioch. These may have caused the Yeshua-believing Jews to withdraw from Yeshua-believing Gentiles because treating them on par with Jews threatened the boundaries of Jewish identity.[24] Magnus Zetterholm observes that at a high level of social intimacy, such as frequent table fellowship, intermarriage between Jew and Gentile will often occur.[25] This realization lies behind some of the Jewish fences to table fellowship.

Peter Tomson suggests that after the apostolic decision in Jerusalem regarding Gentiles (Western Text), a longer version of the Decree arose, including the ban on meat from strangled animals, to which Paul had not agreed.  “Paul’s apology in Gal 2 is based on the assumption that James did support him. […]  It would follow that the requirements forwarded at Antioch by James’ emissary transcended the basic Apostolic agreement.”[26] Perhaps the people from James could not believe that the Gentile Yeshua-believers in Antioch were really free of idolatry.[27] Those from James may have agreed with the position in Didache 6:3 that Gentile Yeshua-believers should observe more than the minimum food laws for a Noachide and must scrupulously avoid meat sacrificed to idols.

With this background from Galatians and First Corinthians, let us turn to Romans.  Paul wrote Romans to secure from his readers the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5, 16:26).  Although some readers were Jews, the letter is addressed to Gentiles (Rom 1:1-7, 13; 11:13-14; 15:15-16).[28] Paul is concerned that his Gentile readers not become proud, thinking that they have replaced the Jews (11:17-24).  On the contrary, God has not rejected his people.  Instead, God has consigned all to disobedience so that God might have mercy on all (11:32).

Paul identifies himself with the strong (Rom 14-15) when urging them to respect the dietary sensibilities of the weak.  This has usually been taken to mean that the strong are Yeshua-believers who live free of the Law, while the weak cling to observance of the Law.  Mark Nanos instead argues that the strong have faith in Yeshua, while the weak do not.[29] The Septuagint uses a word for “weak” to translate the Hebrew for “stumbling.”  In Romans 9:30-33, Paul refers to non-Yeshua-believing Jews as “stumbling.” In Romans 14:21 he uses the same term.  Thus, the weak are non-Yeshua-believing Jews in the traditional synagogue.  Their faith in God, although weak, is nevertheless faith.

Similar to and perhaps within the Hillelite stream of Pharisaism (cf. Acts 5:33-39; 22:3), Paul evinces a toleration influenced by Cynico-Stoic ideals.  What he meant by “nothing is unclean in itself” (Rom 14:14) was the same thing that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai meant when he said that a corpse would not defile, and water would not cleanse-only it is a decree of God.[30] Unclean foods were not unclean intrinsically, but unclean for Jews because God had so commanded.  Paul’s observation that one person distinguishes a certain day above the other, but another person distinguishes every day (14:5), recalls Shammai and Hillel who, respectively, held such positions.[31]

If, contrary to Nanos, but with most scholars, one assumes that the weak in Romans 14-15 are Yeshua-believing Jews, the situation is as follows.  Paul identifies himself with the strong because he wishes to influence them, but he does not agree with them in all matters.[32] The weak believe that foods are clean or unclean intrinsically.  Paul, like the strong, and like some Pharisees, believes the purity of foods derives only from the divine command.  The weak may avoid any wine handled by a Gentile, because of the risk of idolatry.  Paul assumes that Yeshua-believing Gentiles are free of idolatry.  The weak may reject the decision of the Jerusalem apostles that Gentiles do not have to observe the whole Torah.  The strong, but not Paul, may reject the stipulations of the Apostolic Decree for Gentile behavior.  Paul instead urges his readers not to despise Jewish sensibilities.  Paul urges his readers to pursue what makes for mutual upbuilding (14:19), and each one to please their neighbor (15:2).

More specifically, the weak may object to using permitted food if it is near forbidden food, or if inadvertently mixed with a small quantity of forbidden food (cf. Matt 23:24).  Either would happen at times if people with different dietary restrictions were eating together.  But in Mishnaic and Talmudic Judaism, dead insects smaller than a lentil do not make food impure.  Cold, dry non-kosher food is nullified if unintentionally mixed with a larger quantity of kosher food, unless the taste of the non-kosher food gives its taste to the whole.  In the latter case, or for foods that are cooked or blended together, the non-kosher food can be eaten if it is less than one sixtieth of the whole.[33] Therefore, a learned, religiously observant Jew can eat food that contains pork and tastes like pork if so nullified, because food is not intrinsically clean or unclean.  It is clean or unclean according to divine or rabbinic decree.  In Leviticus 11:37-38 a seed becomes impure when a forbidden carcass falls upon it, but only if water was put on the seed.   The Pharisees deduced from the biblical language that only water intentionally applied was meant, and generalized this principle to all food.  Here is another instance where a “weak” person without Pharisaic training (unlike Paul) might be overly cautious, eating only vegetables.

It is possible that Paul adjusted his behavior during meals, since a guest follows the custom of his host,[34] while remaining observant of biblical dietary laws among both Jews and Gentiles.  If the three clauses of First Corinthians 9:20-21 refer to three groups, this avoids the redundancy caused by equating “Jews” and those “under the Law.”[35] Perhaps the first group, “Jews,” includes Jews who are not particularly observant, while the second group, those “under the Law,” may be Jews most scrupulous in observing the Law.[36] The third group, those “without the Law,” are Gentiles, sinners.  Paul himself is not without the Law; as a Jew he remains observant.  Yet Paul’s Torah lifestyle follows the example of Yeshua in table fellowship. He “becomes as” regular Jews, Pharisees, or Gentiles by receiving hospitality from all.[37]


Paul’s Vehemence in Galatians according to Nanos


Paul wrote Galatians to Gentile Yeshua-believers who were being influenced to undergo circumcision.  The people against whom Paul’s anger is directed are difficult to identify, and theologians often assume that they opposed Paul since Paul opposed them.   Mark Nanos has proposed that those Paul opposed were Jews but not Yeshua-believers.  His reconstruction has been critically praised but his views have not been accepted by many.[38] By summarizing Nanos here I intend, without endorsing a specific reconstruction, to suggest an alternative to the standard reading.

Polytheism was the civic religion in the Greco-Roman world.  Sacrifices to the gods and emperor were expected of all citizens and were thought necessary to ensure their favor.  Jews were granted an exemption, and were respected for their ancient religion, but were thought odd or unsociable by non-Jews.  When a town experienced a disaster the Jews might be blamed and attacked for failing to participate in the sacrifices.

Gentile Yeshua-believers were required by the apostles to abstain from idolatry.  The only protection such Gentiles had from civic cultic responsibilities would come from association with the synagogue.  If Gentiles sought exemption from the sacrifices, but not on traditional Jewish terms, the Jewish population probably felt their own tolerated position in society threatened.

Nanos argues that Galatians is filled with irony (Gal 1:13-16, 23-24; 2:2, 6-9, 14-18; 3:1-5, 10-14; 4:8-20, 21-31; 5:1-4, 11-12, 23; 6:3-5, 7-10, 11, 12-13, 14).[39] Such style also appears in Paul’s boasting of weakness in his letters to the Corinthians.  Galatians exemplifies the ironic type of letter described by Cicero, Quintilian, and in other writings.  A papyrus begins:  “I am very much surprised [thaumazo], my son, that till today I have not received any letter from you, telling me about your welfare.”[40] The expression thaumazo is a formal opening device to indicate irony.   It does not mean that the writer is surprised, but rather irritated or disappointed.

Paul uses thaumazo at the beginning of Galatians (1:6).  He continues by employing ironic inversion, attacking a gospel/good news “which is not another,” except for the intention of confusing the Gentile Yeshua-believers in Galatia.[41] Interpreters misled by surface elements have thought that “another gospel,” which is not really a gospel, meant that Jewish Yeshua-believers had been preaching a gospel-plus-law which is different from Paul’s law-free gospel.[42]

However, evangelion does not always mean gospel in Paul’s writings (1 Thess 3:6), and Paul sometimes uses other words for the gospel.  In 2 Sam 4:10 (2 Kingdoms in LXX), evangelion has an ironic meaning.  A man thinks that he brings David good news of Saul’s death.  David kills the man; this was his ‘reward.’

Non-Yeshua-believing Jews in Galatia offered Gentile Yeshua-believers full participation in Jewish life through circumcision and conversion.  This seemed good news to both parties since it made their places in society more secure.  But Paul objected.  Paul used evangelion to shock his readers.  The good news of proselyte conversion by its nature competes with the good news of Messiah Yeshua as Paul proclaims it.[43] To insist that Gentiles undergo circumcision to join the people of God was to deny that Yeshua was the Messiah and that the messianic age had arrived.

Paul’s Gentile readers who heeded his warning not to convert to Judaism may have been tempted to return to participation in pagan civic rituals.  Paul anticipates this possibility and objects again.


Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods.  Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly spirits?  How can you want to be enslaved by them again?  You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. (4:8-10)


Many exegetes think that Paul is referring to Jewish practice and that Paul compares it to slavery and idolatry.  However, the calendar that Paul’s Gentile readers are drawn to (4:10) is not a Jewish one but an idolatrous Roman one that does not include weeks.[44]

Paul accuses his readers of desiring to be enslaved to idolatry (4:9), and desiring to be under the Law (4:21).  “It is likely that the addressees do not wish either to behave like pagans or to become proselytes per se, but rather “desire” to escape the constraints concomitant with their ambiguous nonproselyte status.”[45] Paul, instead, urges them to become like him (4:12), that is, to identify with him as marginalized within the people of God for the sake of the good news of Messiah.[46]

The picture of a Torah observant Paul, based on his own writings, should increasingly seem a reasonable and even persuasive view.  Paul is coherent, consistent with his self testimony, and consistent with the way Luke portrays him.


Pauline Theology of the Law

Pauline passages about justification appear in Romans and Galatians, discussing the relations between Jews and Gentiles with respect to the Law.  Justification by faith/faithfulness supports Paul’s argument that Gentiles are saved through Messiah without becoming Jews, and accounts theologically for the diversity of the one faith in Messiah.[47] Paul argued that righteousness (justification) does not come from keeping the Law.  This is the unifying belief behind his various explanations for the purpose of the Law.[48]

Since Paul’s letters are written to Gentiles and he did not want them to convert to Judaism, when treating justification he emphasizes the negative aspects of the Law and neglects positive aspects.  In Romans, Paul makes increasingly negative connections, from “the Law does not make righteous,” to “the Law produces transgression,” to “the Law itself is one of the Powers to which Yeshua-believers must die, along with sin and the flesh.”  Finally, in Romans 7, Paul attempts to pull back.  The commandment is holy and just and good (Rom 7:12).  But because of fleshly human nature, obedience is impossible.  Another law (sin) comes (Rom 7:14-25).  Sin uses the Law to provoke transgression, which leads to death (7:7-13).  Paul virtually equates the Law with sin and the flesh (Rom 6:14; 7:4-6; Gal 5:16-18); or, God uses the Law to increase knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20; 5:20); or, Scripture consigned all things to sin so that what was promised might be given to those who believe (Gal 3:22).

Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Law (Gal 3:10-13), that is, from the penalty for disobedience.  Paul held a pessimistic view of humanity (Rom 3:19-20; Gal 2:16).[49] Paul emphasized the curse of the Law when seeking to dissuade Gentiles from becoming Jews.[50] The Law itself is not a curse.  The traditional Christian view that Paul’s opponents believed in self-righteousness is not correct, nor that Paul opposed the Law because pride in achievement would result.[51]

The image of the Law as a tutor (Gal 3:23-25) has been influential for theologians.  A person’s relationship to the Law changed with the coming of Messiah; one is no longer “under” it.  Wilson argues that here and elsewhere in Galatians, “under the Law” is shorthand for “under the curse of the Law.”[52] Many theologians understand that the Law has a vital function in the eschatological age and can be fulfilled with the help of the Spirit.[53] Rather than teaching the superfluity of the Law for ethics, Gal 5:18 means if one is led by the Spirit, one is not under the curse of the Law.[54]

Paul expects that believers in Yeshua will, in the Spirit, fulfill the Law (Rom 8).  The Law has practical significance, and Paul frequently uses it to instruct Gentiles (First Corinthians, discussed above). Paul was even able to write that it is not hearers of the Law, but rather doers who will be justified (Rom 2:13; cf. James 1:25).

There is a trend in recent scholarship to understand nomos in Galatians 6:2 to mean the law of Moses, as it does in the previous 30 uses of nomos in Galatians.  At 5:14 Paul writes that the whole law is fulfilled by loving your neighbor as yourself.  A possible interpretation of “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Messiah” is that it means to fulfill the law of Moses as taught and exemplified by Yeshua.  This positive use of the Law has troubled many commentators, who try to marginalize Gal 6:2 for grasping Paul’s theology of the Law.  However, a Law-positive meaning is well suited to a Torah-observant Paul, and Gal 6:2 may well be close to the center of his theology of the Law.[55]

It is possible to consider the Law as a Power, just as elements of human culture such as language, marriage and family, and science are Powers.  Wink describes the elements as whatever is basic and irreducible to a class of phenomena.  The “elements” of religion are rites and regulations, doctrines and beliefs.  Just as the physical elements and laws of nature are powerful, indispensable, and ubiquitous, so are the elements of social existence.  The Powers are good, the Powers are fallen, and the Powers must be redeemed.[56] The Law is good if anyone uses it lawfully (1 Tim 1:8).

It may be useful to show that some interpretations of Paul’s view of the Law are compatible with his Torah observance, without endorsing those reconstructions, and even though the interpreters did not think that Paul observed Jewish practices consistently.

E.P. Sanders inaugurated a new chapter in Pauline studies by showing that Judaism was not a religion of works-righteousness, but of grace. Paul realized that Messiah brought redemption, and from that conceived of a plight from which Messiah was the solution.  Paul’s problem with Judaism, according to Sanders, was that it was not Christianity.  The apostle criticized the Law because it was unable to make righteous, but covenantal nomism was the usual Jewish response to being in saving relationship to God.[57]

Heikki Räisänen agreed with Sanders that Judaism was characterized by covenantal nomism.  Unlike Sanders, Räisänen believed that Paul affirms Jewish election, the covenant, and the Torah in places.  But Paul is a fundamentally inconsistent thinker.  For example, Gentiles are subject to the Torah and also liberated from it.  No one can fulfill the Law, but Christians fulfill the Law.[58]

James D.G. Dunn built upon Sanders’ approach, but for Dunn, Paul can also be understood through covenantal nomism.  The apostle reacted against the works of the Law, which are Jewish practices such as circumcision, Sabbath, and dietary laws.  These were closely identified with national righteousness, and had to be set aside by Jews who believed in Jesus.[59]

In the synthesis of N.T. Wright, Paul was a consistent thinker for whom Messiah was the climax of the covenant.  Paul deals both with how non-Jews are included and with how sinners are made right with God-for they are the same topic.  While not abandoning a Jewish framework, Paul redefined election and Israel.[60]

For Lloyd Gaston, Paul’s remarks about the Law must be understood as applying to Gentiles, who were his audience.  In literature such as Proverbs and Sirach, the Torah is identified as Wisdom.  It functions in different ways toward those inside or outside the covenant.  The works of the Law are what the Law does to non-Jews who are disobedient, outside the covenant, and thus cut off from grace.  Paul believed that through the faithfulness of Yeshua, a way is opened for Gentiles to be included in the covenant.  His criticism of fellow Jews was that they did not accept God’s plan for the salvation of the nations.[61]

Stanley Stowers argued that the subject of Gentile self-control is prominent in Romans.  The Torah appealed to many Gentiles as a means of acquiring self-control.  However, because the Gentiles rejected God, God gave them up to their passions (Rom 1:18-32).  Stowers reads Romans 2 as depicting the position of a fictitious Jewish teacher of the Law who exhorts Gentiles to observe the Law in order to gain control of themselves and achieve righteousness.  But according to Paul, the Law can only bring Gentiles knowledge of sin.[62]

Paul is often considered to have transcended Jewish particularism in developing Christian universalism.  Caroline Johnson Hodge approached Paul through examining how ancient authors define kinship and ethnicity.  She argues that Paul’s strategy for creating a new identity for non-Jews was through adoption.  God chooses faithful persons, including Abraham and Yeshua, who receive divine blessing that is passed on to adopted, spiritual heirs. Jews and Greeks become one in Messiah without losing other identities.[63]

Frank Thielman argued against Sanders that Paul developed his theology of the Law from plight to solution.  Thielman postulated that Paul held common Jewish eschatological notions.  The history of the Jewish people is largely of failure to do God’s will.  But Paul thought the Law could be kept through the Spirit, and that it had a role in the eschatological age.[64]

Simon Gathercole examined apocryphal and pseudepigraphal Jewish texts and Qumran literature predating the fall of the Temple in 70 CE.  An important theme in them (and also parts of the New Testament) is that Torah obedience will be rewarded.  Gathercole considers the Jew in Romans 2 to represent the whole Jewish people.  Although Gathercole agrees with the New Perspective on Paul (Sanders, Dunn, and Wright) that Judaism was not legalistic, he thinks that Paul objects to boasting (Rom 2:17) that is not boasting in Christ.[65]

Stephen Westerholm defined five elements in the Lutheran picture of Paul: (1) human nature has been corrupted and people cannot please God; (2) justification is by God’s grace, not works; (3) there is no reason to boast before God; (4) justification by faith must lead to good works; and (5) the Spirit enables partial fulfillment of the moral demands of the Law.  Westerholm argues that this is the correct way to read Paul.  While he agrees with Sanders that ancient Judaism was not legalistic, he argues against Sanders’ “Protestant” portrait of it.[66]

Key elements in these interpretations by Sanders, Räisänen, Dunn, Wright, Gaston, Stowers, Hodge, Thielman, Gathercole, and Westerholm are compatible with Torah observance by Paul.  Many of them would agree that attempting to keep the Law is only wrong as a means of obtaining righteousness, but is right as a response to God’s saving grace.  As Zetterholm perceived:


If the old caricature of Judaism can be proved false and it can be assumed that first-century Judaism was not characterized by legalism and works-righteousness, it seems quite unlikely that Paul found reason to leave Judaism for Christianity.  If the Torah was given by grace and contains a sacrificial system that makes it possible for the individual to atone for his or her sins, it seems, on the contrary, likely that Paul continued to express his relation to the God of Israel through the Torah, God’s most precious gift to the Jewish people.  From this point of departure, other factors must have led to the distressing conflicts within the early Jesus movement.[67]


A Torah-observant Paul is also compatible with postcolonial, feminist, and multidisciplinary approaches to Paul’s letters.  Neil Elliott argues that the Jew of Romans 2:17-24 is not bragging about what he does not possess, since Romans 9:4-5 shows that Jews really do possess privileges.  Paul aims to teach Gentile Jesus-believers that the present Roman rule, in which the Jews seem wretched, is not how God will treat Jews in the future.[68] Kathy Ehrensperger considers Paul a source of inspiration to feminists for championing particularism, mutuality, and diversity.[69] Davina Lopez interprets the Sarah-Hagar allegory in Galatians 4:21-5:1 in the context of Roman imperialism.  The covenant of Caesar leads to slavery, while the covenant of God leads to freedom.[70]

Changing Assumptions

Let me delineate two assumptions about Paul: (1) Paul teaches or knows that circumcision, Sabbath, food laws, and prohibition against meat sacrificed to idols, are not abolished in Messiah and Jewish observance of all, and Gentile observance of the last is expected (e.g., “there is nothing in what they have been told about you but… you yourself live in accordance with the Law,” Acts 21:24); or (2) Paul teaches or knows that circumcision, Sabbath, and food laws are nullified, and idol food is permitted (e.g. “they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses,” Acts 21:21).  These options correspond to accepting all or none of the points previously summarized of Pauline passages showing respect for Old Testament “ceremonial” Law and first-century Jewish practice. Intermediate positions are possible.

Political changes facilitated a shift among Gentile Yeshua-believers from the first to the second assumption.[71] Gentile Yeshua-believers would have associated with the synagogue because only Jews were exempted from idolatrous civic rites.  The Jewish War and other rebellions resulted in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and increased anti-Jewish sentiment throughout the Roman Empire.  Rome instituted a tax on Jews.  Rome also increased pressure on Gentiles to fulfill their religious obligations to the state.  Domitian (emperor 81-96) executed his cousin and banished his cousin’s wife for atheism, that is, Jewish tendencies and neglecting civic rites.  Suetonius (Dom. 12.2) relates the story of a ninety year old man who was examined before the procurator and court to see if he was circumcised.  Probably this was to determine if he was a non-Jew and consequently guilty of atheism.  Correspondence between Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia (c. 110-12) and Emperor Trajan reveals that a Gentile denounced as a Christian could be executed, but could escape punishment by worshipping the gods.

Some Gentile Yeshua-believers probably paid the fiscus Judaicus and tried to pass for Jews. Others tried to form a new association (collegia) with recognized rights.  They responded to local and Roman pressure by distancing themselves from Judaism (including Yeshua-believing Jews), while laying claim to the traditions of Judaism, and petitioning the authorities for civic recognition based on Christianity’s fine qualities.

An indication of widening separation between Gentile and Jewish Yeshua-believers appears in the writings of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (c. 115 CE):


Be not deceived by false opinions or old fables that are of no use.  For if we have lived according to Judaism until now, we admit that we have not received God’s gracious gift.  For the most divine prophets lived according to Jesus Christ.  For this reason also they were persecuted. (To the Magnesians 8:1)


Ignatius means that his movement had formerly been associated with the Jewish Yeshua movement, whose teachings they now consider false.  Asserting that the biblical prophets were no longer “sabbatizing,” he implies that some Yeshua-believers of his day observe the seventh day rest, and that he condemns this.[72] According to Ignatius, it is outlandish or monstrous to proclaim Messiah and practice Judaism (To the Magnesians 10:3).  However, Ignatius claims connection to the biblical prophets, which serves as the legal foundation for the continued existence of the separate Gentile Yeshua-movement.[73]

The Epistle of Barnabus was written in the late first century or early second century by a Gentile Jesus-believer.  Its purpose was to prevent Gentiles from being “shipwrecked by conversion to their (the Jews’) Law” (Barnabus 3:6).  The epistle treats Christians and Jews as mutually exclusive communities.  Barnabus engages in spiritualizing, allegorical exegesis, and claims that the Jews misunderstood Scripture by observing circumcision, dietary laws, and Sabbath in a literal manner.  Jewish practice was invalid from the beginning.[74]

At the Jerusalem Council, the apostles considered whether Gentile Yeshua-believers who did not observe the Law could join the Yeshua movement.  Some individuals had said that unless Gentiles are circumcised they cannot be saved (Acts 15:1).  A century later, in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (155-160 CE), the question is inverted.  Justin asks whether a Yeshua-believing Jew who keeps the Law can be saved.  For Justin, the Law was given in order to punish the Jews.  It is right that Jews who do not believe in Jesus continue to observe the Law, as a mark of divine judgment against them.  Jesus-believers should give up distinct Jewish practices, since they no longer merit punishment.[75]

Paul taught that Gentiles who come to faith in Yeshua should not become Jews nor observe the entire Law, but that Jews should observe the entire Law.  As Gentile Yeshua-believers separated from Jewish Yeshua-believers, these Gentiles accepted Paul’s argument against Law observance, apart from its context in which Gentile Yeshua-believers are equal to, yet distinct from, Jewish Yeshua-believers.  Consequently, the Gentile church needed to explain why it claimed the Old Testament as Scripture, yet failed to obey the commandments that were given to Israel.  Two responses were to posit an abrogation of the Law, for both Jews and Gentiles, or to adopt Philo’s allegorical approach to Scripture, but without his commitment to the literal meaning.  These shifts were tied to the evolving Christian self-definition.[76]

At the council of Nicaea in 325, church representatives rejected connecting the date on which Christians observed Easter to the date on which Jews observed Passover.  Emperor Constantine announced that “we ought not to have anything in common with the Jews,” and that “it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep the feast.”[77] This desire for independence was also manifest in Christian defenses of the sexual ethics which the church inherited from Judaism.  Rather than citing the plain sense of Leviticus as an authority, Gentile Christian writers preferred to justify their position on natural law arguments and allegories.

Irenaeus, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas developed the distinction between the moral law, which they said endured, and the ceremonial law, which was transient.  In the period before Messiah, the Law was life-giving.  Between the time of Messiah and the destruction of the Temple (70 CE) the ceremonial Law was dead but not deadly.  The apostles were permitted to observe it to demonstrate that the God of the scriptures was the God worshipped by Christians.  After the destruction of the Temple, the ceremonial Law was both dead and deadly.  According to Aquinas, for a Jesus-believer to observe Jewish practices such as circumcision, Sabbath on the seventh day, or Jewish dietary restrictions, was a mortal sin, because it denied that Jesus had already come.  “In not keeping ceremonial law, Christians honor Christ’s unique place, and display their primary reliance upon him and his Torah-observance.”[78]

Over the centuries, further contributions to Christian denigration of the Law were ubiquitous anti-Semitism and Luther’s theology of antithesis between Grace and Law.[79] The paradigm of absolute opposition between Paul and Judaism, which deduces that Paul  departed from Judaism and Torah observance, “emerged as a theological solution to a theological problem-the relationship between the respective role of the individual and God in salvation.”[80] In nineteenth and twentieth century biblical scholarship, the Tübingen school proposed a dynamic opposition of law-free Paulinism and law-enslaved Jewish-Christianity.[81]

Thus, Luke’s portrayal of a Torah-observant Paul in Acts, rather than serving to modify the view of Paul formed from studying his letters, was considered an unreliable source of historical information.  The assumptions of Irenaeus, Augustine, and Aquinas that Paul observed the Torah were rejected.



Paul’s ministry as an apostle to the nations was a life in Messiah Yeshua, behavior within the sphere of Torah, and remained a part of Judaism.  His theology of the Law appeared in passages addressed to Gentiles.  Paul taught that Gentiles are one with Jewish Yeshua-believers in Messiah Yeshua, and urged respect for Jewish sensibilities, but that Gentiles not undergo circumcision, which would obligate them to full Torah observance.  The Jewish context of Paul was no longer understandable after Gentile Yeshua-believers lost their own Jewish connections.

Jon C. Olson, DPM, DrPH, teaches epidemiology online through the School of Public Health of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


[1] Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (San Francisco:  Harper, 1996), 32.

[2] David Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews:  Jewish Contours of Pauline Flexibility in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (Tubingen:  Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 23-27.

[3] Ibid., 53-72.

[4] Ibid., 28-30.

[5] Ibid., 73-5.

[6] Ibid., 75-88.  The slavery/freedom illustration teaches that celibacy is to be preferred to marriage.

[7] 1 Cor 7:10-11; 9:14 [cf. Gal 6:6; 1 Thess 4:11]; 14:34; 11:23-25.

[8] 1 Cor 7:39 [cf. Rom 7:2]; 11:2-16.

[9] Gal 5:3; 1 Thess 4:6; 1 Cor 14:16; 5:1 [cf. 1 Thess 4:3]; 7:2 [cf. 1 Thess 4:4]; 9:9.

[10] Peter J. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles (Minneapolis:  Fortress, 1990), 264.

[11] E. P. Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), 28-29.

[12] Magnus Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul: A Student’s Guide to Recent Scholarship (Minneapolis:  Fortress, 2009), chapter 6, summarizes and finds merit in critiques of Sanders.  But Zetterholm observes, “What Paul finds wrong with Judaism, according to Gathercole, is precisely that the Jews worshipped a God who both honors Torah observance and blots out transgressions according to his ‘steadfast love’ and ‘abundant mercy’ (Ps. 51:1).  This may very well be the case, but it could also be that the Protestant dichotomy between grace and works has so permeated Western thinking that we are almost unable to see things from a different angle.” (Approaches to Paul, 183-84).

[13] Mark D. Nanos, “The Myth of the ‘Law-Free’ Paul Standing between Christians and Jews,” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 4.1 (2009), 4.

[14] Ibid., 7-8.

[15] Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews, 153-59.

[16] Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul, 137. However, Origen and Chrysotom understood Paul’s concerns to be both for the weak and to avoid idolatry.  No early Christian writer thought that Paul was indifferent to idol food, a view they attributed to heretics; Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews, 93-97.

[17] Chrysostom rendered syneidesis in 1 Cor 8:7 as “mental aim,” i.e. consciousness.  Commentators who translate “conscience” use a meaning which the Greek acquired after Paul’s time.  See Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law, 267, for parallel Jewish halakhic terms and the connection to Stoic thought.

[18] John Fotopoulos, “Arguments Concerning Food Offered to Idols:  Corinthian Quotations and Pauline Refutations in a Rhetorical Partitio (1 Corinthians 8:1-9)” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 67/4 (2005):611-631.

[19] Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law, 276-81.

[20] Ibid., 218.

[21] Nanos, “Myth of the ‘Law-Free’ Paul,” 11-12.

[22] George Howard, Paul:  Crisis in Galatia, 2nd ed. (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1990), xxii.  James Dunn, Nanos, and Markus Barth interpret “living like a Gentile” to mean living justified through faith and not like those Jews who still relied on the status of the Law for their justification.  See Mark S. Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids:  Brazos, 2005), 85.

[23] Nanos, “Myth of the ‘Law-Free’ Paul,” 10-12.

[24] Mark D. Nanos, The Irony of Galatians:  Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context (Minneapolis:  Fortress, 2002), 147-54, 168.

[25] Magnus Zetterholm, The Formation of Christianity in Antioch:  A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity (London:  Routledge, 2003).

[26] Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law, 152, 274.

[27] Especially if they continued some sociopolitically motivated involvement in Greco-Roman cult; see Magnus Zetterholm, “Purity and Anger:  Gentiles and Idolatry in Antioch,” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 1 (2005): 1-24.

[28] Mark D. Nanos, The Mystery of Romans:  The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letter (Minneapolis:  Fortress, 1996), 75-84.

[29] Nanos, Mystery of Romans, 85-165.

[30] See Nanos, “Myth of the ‘Law-Free’ Paul;” Jon C. Olson, “Which Differences are Blessed?  From Peter’s Vision to Paul’s Letters,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 36 (2000);3/4: 455-60.

[31] Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law, 246, citing PesR 23 (115b); bBeitsa 16a.

[32] Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, 76-82.

[33] Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews, 36-9.

[34] Ibid., 142-46, citing Luke 10:8 (Yeshua), Tosefta Berachot 2:21 (Hillel), Josephus, Philo, The Testament of Abraham, and Abraham’s hosting of three angels (Gen 18).

[35] The move from mentioning Israel to a subset of Jews also appears at 1 Cor 10:18 and Phil 3:5 (Rudolph A Jew to the Jews, 203).

[36] So also John Lightfoot, August Heydenreich, Peter Richardson, Markus Bockmuehl, and Richard Phua.  Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews , 154-57 uses Paul’s testimony that he was ‘as to the law a Pharisee’ (Phil 3:5), for interpreting 1 Cor 9:20.  Caroline Johnson Hodge (“Apostle to the Gentiles:  Construction of Paul’s Identity [Biblical Interpretation 13.3, 2005: 270-88]) however, suggests that those under the Law are Gentiles who try but fail to keep it.

[37] Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews, 149-65, 173-208.

[38] For example, Graham Stanton, review of Nanos, The Irony of Galatians, in the Journal of Theological Studies, October 2005.

[39] Nanos, Irony of Galatians.

[40] Ibid., 40.

[41] Ibid., 299.

[42] Although my thesis that Paul was Torah observant is compatible with him in Galatians opposing Yeshua-believing Jews (cf. Adam Gregerman, “The Lack of Evidence for a Jewish Christian Countermission in Galatia,” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 4:1 [2009], 1-26), I think they were not Yeshua-believers, nor from outside Galatia, nor representatives of the Jerusalem apostles.  As Nanos (Irony of Galatians) explains, Yeshua-believing Gentiles were in contact with Jewish communities.  Otherwise, how would they know what Pentecost/Shavuot (1 Cor 16:8) was, or it’s dates?  Paul’s charge that those he opposes promote circumcision to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ (Gal 6:12) (that is, treating Gentile Yeshua-believers as part of the people of God) is better fitted to non-Yeshua-believers than otherwise.  The influence they have with Paul’s Gentile readers, and the expression “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” connote local forces.  They were not opponents whose attacks Paul responds to, but Jews who Paul anticipates will oppose him after his Gentile readers respond as Paul urges by resisting circumcision.  Methodologically, the autobiographical narratives about Antioch or Jerusalem, and allegory, should not be used to identify people in Galatia.  Even if they were so used, the ones from circumcision in Antioch were probably not Yeshua-believers, nor were the false brethren (2:4) in Jerusalem.  Instead, the Jerusalem apostles did not compel Titus to be circumcised, and are included in the “we” who with Paul did not yield to the non-Yeshua-believing pseudo-brethren.  The latter may have misrepresented their intentions, as perhaps that they came to observe in order to learn, but then misrepresented the Yeshua-believers to the authorities.  The Jerusalem that is enslaved (4:22-30) means the dominant Jewish groups who served at the pleasure of Roman rulers.

[43] Nanos, Irony of Galatians, 313.

[44] Nanos, Irony of Galatians.

[45] Ibid., 81.

[46] Ibid., 88.

[47] Peter J. Tomson, ‘If this be from Heaven…’: Jesus and the New Testament Authors in their Relationship to Judaism ( Sheffield:  Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 189.

[48] Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, 70-81.

[49] Also shared with Qumran; Tomson, If This be from Heaven, 191-92.  A. Andrew Das has argued that in 4 Ezra, 2 Enoch, 2 Baruch, 3 Baruch, and the Testament of Abraham, perfect obedience is demanded and covenantal aspects are downplayed.  See Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul, 170-77.

[50] Michael Wyschogrod, “Paul, Jews, and Gentiles,” in Michael Wyschogrod, Abraham’s Promise: Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 188-201.  Wyschogrod suggests that the Jewish people can live with the knowledge of God’s wrath against their disobedience because they know themselves to be absolutely loved.  Adopted children, by contrast, are less certain of parental love and must believe that the wrath is gone forever.

[51] Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, 84.

[52] Todd A, Wilson, “Under Law’ in Galatians: A Pauline Theological Abbreviation,” Journal of Theological Studies 56:2 (2005), 362-92.

[53] Frank Thielman, From Plight to Solution:  A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans (Leiden: Brill, 1989), cited in Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul, 168-69.

[54] Wilson, “Under Law.”  Nanos instead reads Gal 5:18 to mean that if Paul’s addressees have the Spirit, they do not need to become proselytes (under Law).  See Mark D. Nanos, review of Todd A. Wilson, The Curse of the Law and the Crisis in Galatia: Reassessing the Purpose of Galatians (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007) in Biblical Interpretation 18 (2010), 166.

[55] Todd A. Wilson, “The Law of Christ and the Law of Moses,” Currents in Biblical Research 5:1 (2006), 129-50.

[56] Walter Wink, Unmasking the Powers (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986); cf. John H. Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 2nd ed.  (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1994); Glen H. Stassen, “A New Vision,” in Glen H. Stassen, D.M. Yeager, and John Howard Yoder, Authentic Transformation:  A New Vision of Christ and Culture (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 191-268.

[57] Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul, 100-108.

[58] Ibid., 109-13.  Zetterholm thinks the main problem both for Sanders and Raisanen is holding a new view of Judaism, while maintaining the traditional assumption that Paul broke from Judaism.

[59] Ibid., 113-18.

[60] Ibid., 118-25.

[61] Ibid., 127-34.

[62] Ibid., 139-47.

[63] Ibid., 155-61.

[64] Ibid., 165-70.

[65] Ibid., 177-84.

[66] Ibid., 184-92.

[67] Ibid., 229-30.

[68] Ibid., 201-9.

[69] Ibid., 210-16.

[70] Ibid., 216-23.

[71] Zetterholm, Formation of Christianity in Antioch.  Zetterholm thinks ideological differences were usually the result rather than the cause of the separation.

[72] Samuele Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observation in Early Christianity, (1977), chapter 7; [online<:www.>] accessed June 5, 2012.

[73] Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul, 55.  According to Tomson, If this be from Heaven, 247-54, the Ignatian, anti-Jewish wing of the church, with an anti-Torah interpretation of Paul, is represented in Titus 1:10-15; the Lukan Torah-positive view of Paul is represented in Ephesians, 1 Peter, and 1-2 Timothy.

[74] Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, 189-91.

[75] Ibid., 193.

[76] Lloyd Gaston, “Retrospect,” in Stephen G. Wilson, ed., Anti-Judaism in Early Christianity, volume 2: Separation and Polemic (Waterloo ON:  Wilfrid Laurier Press, 1986), 163-74.

[77] Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, volume XIV, 54.

[78] Holly Taylor Coolman, “Christological Torah,” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 5(1) 2010, 10.

[79] ‘In Luther’s theological system, the law lost almost all of its positive values with the result that the normal way for Jews to relate to God-through the Torah-became the fundamental human sin in Luther’s theological construction:  self-righteousness’ (Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul, 226).

[80] Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul, 239.

[81] Ibid., 33-68.