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Preaching the Letters without dismissing the Law – R. Allen & C. Williamson

May 2, 2016

PTLWDTLThis is the companion to their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews: A Lectionary Commentary.

It goes into a lot of detail and will help preachers avoid errors about Judaism in their preaching: after all, very few seminaries deal with this subject.

Preachers will be able to see how knowledge of first-century Judaism can help them avoid incorporating misunderstandings and stereotypes into their sermons on the letters. The authors explore insights from recent Christian-Jewish dialogue, continuities between Judaism and the theology of Paul, and the Roman occupation to help them understand the Jewish context of the letters. They also suggest how today’s preacher can deal with issues or comments in the text that are inappropriate or controversial in today’s context.

I welcome quotations from the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha – much Judaism developed in them and some of the New Testament doesn’t make full sense unless you take them into account. However, some of the references are obscure or simply mistaken. And it’s odd that they quote texts that are readily available in the Bible whilst not doing to for obscure texts.


When the church later began to use the word “catholic” or “ecumeni­cal” to describe itself, the meaning of “catholic” included all the socioeco­nomic levels of society, from slaves at the bottom to the well-to-do at the top. A slave in the world could be a leader in the church, as was Epaphras. The most radical thing the early church did was what it did not do: repli­cate the oppressive structures of the world in its own life. Hence it could function as a “light to the world” of an alternative way of life.

we point out that the designation “church” and the for­mula “grace and peace” suggest positive association between the church and Judaism (Gal. 1:2b-3). Such positive connection is reinforced by 1:4b, where Paul joins other Jewish apocalyptic theologians in believing that God will soon end the present evil age and replace it with new age of love and justice (e.g., 1 En. 91:15-17; 2 Esd. 7:50). For Paul, the cosmic rulers who distort the present world fought the coming of the new age by putting Jesus to death.

Paul uses a typical rabbinic argument from the lesser (the theology and ministry of the super apostles) to the greater (Paul’s own theology and ministry).39 In line with our remarks about 3:6, the expressions “letters” and “stone tablets” in 3:7a refer to the super apostles’ teaching that they receive mystical visions directly from God. This view is evidently based on a particular interpretation of Exodus 34:29-34 that uses Moses’ ascent to the mountain to receive the commandments as the model for their own mystical ascent to receive visions that assure them they already participate in “glory” (Exod. 34:29-32)… the old covenant, that same veil is still there.” The phrase “old covenant” (palaia diatheke) does not appear elsewhere in ancient literature. Although Christians have often taken it in a derogatory way (i.e., old = outmoded), nothing in the context insists on this. Indeed, the ancients valued old ‘things. Gaston translates “the ancient covenant,” or we might think of it as “the ancestral covenant” in the sense of the covenant previously made known to the ancestors whose eschatological implications are only now (at the time of Paul) being revealed.

Judaism had long testified to God for the benefit of Gentiles (Gen. 12:1-3). It was a Jewish hope that God would gather Gentiles into the age to come (1 En. 10:18-22 And then shall the whole earth be tilled in righteousness, and shall all be planted with trees and be full of blessing. And all desirable trees shall be planted on it, and they shall plant vines on it: and the vine which they plant thereon shall yield wine in abundance, and as for all the seed which is sown thereon each measure (of it) shall bear a thousand, and each measure of olives shall yield ten presses of oil. And cleanse thou the earth from all oppression, and from all unrighteousness, and from all sin, and from all godlessness: and all the uncleanness that is wrought upon the earth destroy from off the earth. And all the children of men shall become righteous, and all nations shall offer adoration and shall praise Me, and all shall worship Me. And the earth shall be cleansed from all defilement, and from all sin, and from all punishment, and from all torment, and I will never again send (them) upon it from generation to generation and for ever.;  Sib. Or. 3:767-95; T Naph. 8:3), and occasional Jewish sources report Gentiles coming to God apart from circumcision (Josephus, Ag. Ap. 2.282). The distinct element in Paul is that the turning point of the ages is revealed through Christ and that Gentiles as Gentiles can prepare for the new world through the church. In other letters (espe­cially Romans), Paul does exhort Gentiles to respect Judaism and to adopt many Jewish values and behaviors. He does not state why Gentiles need not convert, but the best explanation we can offer is that many Jewish cus­toms (such as circumcision) were intended to help the community main­tain its identity and remain faithful amidst cultures that were often inimical to the purposes of the God of Israel. Now, with the apocalypse around the corner, such long-term identity markers would not be needed. The mission of the church was to introduce Gentiles to the God and val­ues of Israel and serve as an emergency shelter for Gentiles (sponsored by Judaism) in the gathering apocalyptic crisis. Paul did not plan to establish an alternative religion for Gentiles that would last centuries.

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From → Biblical, Inter Faith

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