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Paul Among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays Paperback – August 1, 1976
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Paul Among Jews and Gentiles serves as a welcome corrective to much of the Pauline exposition which failed to see the ethnic and social implications of the Pauline teaching on the new humanity that consists of Jews and Gentiles. There are a few points that seem to need correction and clarification. First of all, Paul’s call and conversion happened simultaneously, and from Phil 3 and other passages it seems reasonable to call Paul’s coming to faith in Christ a conversion. Stendahl objects that the OT prophets also received a call from God, but this was not viewed as a conversion. However, it should be pointed out that while Isaiah and Jeremiah received a call rather than a conversion, they were not violent persecutors of God’s people at the time of their call/conversion.
The other issue is that the Pauline emphasis on salvation seems to be slighted in favor of the social implications of the gospel. Certainly many passages are concerned with the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. However, this new humanity cannot exist apart from the salvation that Christ offers to all. The new humanity comes into existence after and as a result of faith in Christ. This new humanity exists for eternity because the life that Christ offers is eternal in duration.
The Introspective Conscience of the West is a very thoughtful essay. Stendahl seems to be saying that Paul is often read through the lens of Luther and Augustine – men who struggled with their consciences and how to be right with God. However, this is a Western man’s problem, and not necessarily a problem Paul struggled with. In fact, Paul had a very robust conscience. According to Stehndahl. when we view Paul as a guilt-ridden Pharisee in desperate need of a Savior, we are projecting Western thinking via Augustine and Luther onto Paul.
Stendahl gives a rather compelling argument, and has undoubtedly raised some valid issues. However, there are many issues and passages of Scripture that have been left unturned. The primary issue is, does Stendahl’s reading of Paul give an adequate representation of the biblical teaching? Consider that David lived about 1,000 years before Paul, and was by no means a Western Man. Nevertheless, anyone who has read the Bible carefully and is familiar with Psalm 32 knows that David wrestled with sin and guilt. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and a host of other OT believers also had an acute sense of sin and guilt before a holy God. Peter, Judas, and other characters in the NT also wrestled with sin and guilt, and no doubt Paul did as well. His treatment of Romans 7 was weighty, yet unconvincing. Certainly he is correct in arguing that Paul had a much more robust conscience than he is often given credit for, but Phil 3 needs to be read in the context of a diatribe against Judaizers. Nevertheless, Stendahl has provided the thoughtful reader with a tantalizing collection of essays.
Stendahl is right, but the Pauline situation is more complicated than opposing or reconciling synagogue Jews, Christian-Jews and Gentile Christians facing a "pagan" world.
We can go a step further in understanding Paul and pinpointing his not always undisclosed interlocutors. The Jewish messianic community in Antioch, with which Paul was familiar, was also divided between an avant-garde that supported Jesus as messiah against those who denied such expectations. Within the Jewish communities, Paul had two lots of contradictors: the Essene traditionalists in the line of James and Peter who were his most important source of frustration. And only after, the normative synagogue abiding Jews more familiar with Elijah as the messiah to come. The Essene split that produced the gospels, written contra the traditionalists, better positions Paul's thoughts and struggles and sets his proselytizing closer to the political-religious situation in his days. Paul's mission starts exactly where the gospels ended: crucifixion, resurrection and the imminent second coming. Paul was exporting the rules and constitution of a new religious party devoted to a messiah-mediated survival cult and had to invent and adapt his arguments to various publics and situations, promising and contradicting himself as any newly joining party leader would after experiencing a radical change of opinion. Paul was building an audience with a tempting prime product -eternal life - just as today convinced ecologists are fencing against conservative establishments with the promise of saving the world.
With these reserves in mind, Stendahl's book is well worth reading because it was one of the first significant efforts to understand a Paul retaining his indelible Judean context and within which Paul's uniqueness belongs to the richness of diversity characteristic of the nascent church.