Skip to content

Review of David J. Rudolph / A Jew to the Jews

My review is now on Themelios. I’ve also included the full text below:

David J. Rudolph. A Jew to the Jews: Jewish Contours of Pauline Flexibility in 1 Corinthians 9:19–23. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2.304. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011. xii + 290 pp. £69.00/$137.50.

In 1 Cor 9:19-23, Paul seems to wear his Jewishness very lightly. He claims, for example, that he is not “under the law” and that he “became as a Jew” in order to win Jews. These claims are often cited as evidence that Paul was indifferent to Jewish identity and Torah observance. David Rudolph’s monograph seeks to demonstrate that this “consensus” reading of 1 Cor 9:19-23 cannot be sustained. Rudolph’s primary aim is to demonstrate “that scholars overstate their case when they maintain that 1 Cor 9:19-23 is incompatible with a Torah-observant Paul.” As a secondary aim, Rudolph also seeks to show “how one might understand 1 Cor 9:19-23 as the words of a law-abiding Jew” (p. 19).

In part I (chs. 2-4), Rudolph aims to destabilise the consensus reading of 1 Cor 9:19-23. Chapter 2 deals with intertextual issues. He first argues that key texts often used to support the idea that Paul’s Jewishness is erased or inconsequential in Christ (esp. Acts 16:3; Rom 14; 1 Cor 7:19; 10:32; Gal 1:13; 2:14; 3:28; 5:6; 6:15; Phil 3:8) do not clearly support this idea. Rather, the texts can be interpreted to mean that Paul’s Jewishness is less important than his belonging to Christ. Rudolph then examines other key texts (esp. Acts 21:17-26) which suggest that Paul viewed Jewishness as a distinct “calling in Christ”. Chapter 3 examines 1 Cor 8:1-11:1, arguing that Paul’s whole approach to idol-food fits well within the bounds of Torah-observant Judaism. Paul was not indifferent to idol-food; he simply took a more nominalist Jewish position (what matters is a person’s intention in eating) as opposed to a realist position (idol food is intrinsically dangerous). Paul’s instructions can, in fact, be read as a contextualised application of the apostolic decree (Acts 15). Chapter 4 discusses 9:19-23 directly. He first argues that Paul’s “all things to all people” discourse is consistent with the Jewish practice of accommodation in table-fellowship. Although there was variation in the interpretation of food-laws amongst first-century Jews, there is also ample evidence that many Jews were willing and able to share meals with others (stricter Jews, less strict Jews and Gentiles) without compromising their own purity. Rudolph then examines individual phrases within 9:19-23, showing that they are compatible with the view that Paul was a Torah-observant Jew. For example, the phrase “under the law” does not necessarily mean “under the authority of the Mosaic law”; it might simply refer to those who live according to a strict Pharisee-like interpretation of the law.

Chapter 5 offers his proposed interpretation of 9:19-23. Paul is a Torah-observant Jew who does not personally violate the biblical dietary laws, and he is as “strict” about his Torah-observance as the Pharisees. Paul imitates the gospel-tradition concerning Christ’s accommodation towards others and open table-fellowship. Thus, when Paul claims that he “became like a Jew”, he means that he received the hospitality of various kinds of Jewish hosts. He did not adopt a chameleon-like approach to Jewish identity and practice.

Rudolph’s most interesting contribution is his formulation of Jewish identity as a distinct “calling in Christ” (pp. 75-88). On the one hand, Paul did not view Jewish Torah-observance as a means of eschatological salvation. On the other hand, Jewishness is not erased or inconsequential in Christ. Rather, for Paul, Jewish Torah-observance is a distinct “calling” or a “vocation” within a more fundamental Christian identity (7:19). The Mosaic law, therefore, applies to Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in different ways. Paul understood this difference; hence he lived consistently as a Jew, but never insisted that Gentile converts do the same. This nuanced formulation of Paul’s Jewish identity undergirds the cohesiveness of Rudolph’s entire thesis. It also helps to integrate Paul’s letters with evidence from other sources, for example, the story of Paul’s law-observant actions in the temple in Acts 21:17-26 (pp. 53-57). Furthermore, it has significant implications for other important areas of discussion, such as Paul’s view of male-female distinction in Christ (e.g., p. 31), Paul’s reliance on Jesus-traditions (e.g., pp. 179-90), and the role of Paul’s letters in Jewish-Christian dialogue (e.g., p. 211).

However, Rudolph’s presentation of Torah-observance as a “calling in Christ” also raises significant unresolved tensions concerning the role of the Mosaic law in Paul’s theology. When discussing the law, Rudolph focuses almost entirely on questions of halakhah—that is, how did Paul live day by day, and how did he expect others to live? Yet apart from a brief discussion of the ambiguity of the phrase “under the law” (pp. 154-59), Rudolph does not adequately deal with the soteriological implications of Paul’s use of the word “law”. He tends to skim past Paul’s frequent (often negative) utterances concerning the relationship of the law to eschatological blessing and salvation. However, most expressions of the “consensus view” Rudolph is seeking to oppose are written in the context of these soteriological considerations. Ultimately, then, if Rudolph’s thesis is to be convincing, it needs to be integrated and reconciled with a more comprehensive understanding of Paul’s view of the Mosaic law, particularly its relationship to salvation in Christ.

Lionel Windsor
Durham University
Durham, England, UK

Published in1 CorinthiansBiblical theologyEthicsMissionPaul

House of Windsor Editing Services

Bronwyn Windsor - House of Windsor Editing and Proofreading Services

Are you writing a thesis, book, academic article, resource, theological monograph, or anything else?

Bronwyn Windsor offers professional editing and proofreading services for writers. Press here to find out more: House of Windsor Editing Services

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

All posts

Recent blog posts

  • Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on UnsplashWhat’s wrong with the world? Is there hope? (Ephesians)
    Guilt, weakness, spiritual slavery, prejudice, arrogance, tribalism, conflict, war, victimhood, persecution, pain, suffering, futility, ignorance, lying, deceit, anger, theft, greed, pornography, sexual sin, darkness, fear, drunkenness, substance abuse, domestic abuse, workplace abuse, spiritual powers... In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says many things about the problems we face in this world. He also gives us wonderful reasons to find life, hope and healing in Jesus Christ. Along the way, he provides practical teachings about how to respond and live together.
  • What does Ephesians say about reconciliation?
    We humans are not very good at living up close with others. This is especially true when we have a history of conflict with those others. Reconciliation isn't easy. No matter how much you might want healing, it’s hardly ever a matter of just everybody getting on and pretending the hurts didn’t happen. In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says some very important, fundamental things about peace and reconciliation, and gives many other very practical teachings about how to live together in light of these truths.
  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on EphesiansLift Your Eyes – How it works
    Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians. Here's a video where I explain how the free online resource works.
  • Review: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman
    I need to understand the people around me, so I can live for the gospel among them and speak the gospel to them. To do that, I need to understand the people around me. That's where Carl Trueman's book is so incredibly valuable.
  • What does Ephesians say about church?
    There are so many ideas about what the church is should be. How do we navigate them all? Here are ten key reflections from Ephesians.
  • Reading Ephesians & Colossians After Supersessionism (Cover image)Supersessionism and the New Perspective
    Here are my views on the issue of the New Perspective and Supersessionism, in light of a debate in the Harvard Theological Review.
  • The powerful Christian life: according to Ephesians
    What do we do when we feel weak in the face of powerful people? Here are seven key reflections on power from Ephesians.
  • Liturgy Song – Moore College Revue 2020
    Here's a tribute to our online chapel experience in mid-2020 at Moore College, in the full spirit of parody. I wrote it for our Moore College Revue, and had much fun performing it with Jordan Smith and Monique New.
  • My grandfather’s part in a WWII mission over Modane
    A journey of discovery of some of my family history. My maternal grandfather, Allan Fisher DFC, flew a mission over a rail yard in Modane.
  • Youth praying, Finchale PrioryWhat can we learn about prayer from Ephesians?
    Prayer: What are you doing when you pray? Who are you praying to? Why does it matter? Here are three reflections on prayer from my series on Paul's letter to the Ephesians. #liftyoureyes

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor