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