Skip to content

When Paul used the word “Judaism” in Galatians 1:13-14, what was he talking about?

In my book, I argue that the rare word Ἰουδαϊσμός–which is often translated “Judaism” in our Bibles (Gal 1:13-14)–doesn’t mean “Judaism” in the modern sense of a system of religious thought. Rather, it should be understood in a vocational sense:
Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul's Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans

At times, Paul goes out of his way to reject a particular expression of Jewish vocation, a vocation to which he had once been singularly dedicated. He refers to this vocation using three interrelated terms: Ἰουδαϊσμός (Gal 1:13, 14), ζῆλος / ζηλωτής (Gal 1:14; Phil 3:6; Rom 10:2), and Φαρισαῖος (Phil 3:5). The first two terms are often rendered in English with direct transliterations: “Judaism” and “zeal[ot].” To the modern reader, these English transliterations suggest that Paul is speaking about a general system of religious thought called “Judaism,” which he once “zealously” followed but which he has now rejected. However, as we shall see, these English transliterations do not accurately render the meaning of the Greek terms. Ἰουδαϊσμός and ζῆλος / ζηλωτής, along with Φαρισαῖος, do not refer to the Jewish religion in general. Rather, they refer to a particular expression of Jewish vocation—a vocation which construed Israel’s role in God’s purposes as a call to live as a holy nation in the midst of the other nations, and to preserve that holiness by seeking to protect and remove Jews from the contaminating influence of sinful and unclean Gentiles. (p. 89)

NB In our extant sources prior to or contemporaneous with Paul, the word Ἰουδαϊσμός occurs only in 2 and 4 Maccabees (2 Macc 2:21; 8:1; 14:38 [2x]; 4 Macc. 4.26) and twice in inscriptions.

The details of the argument and further references may be found in chapter 3 of the book (pp. 89-90). The chapter is available from the publisher in electronic format:

Windsor, Lionel J. Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul’s Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans. BZNW 205. Berlin / Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2014.

Published inGalatiansPaul

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

  • 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
  • Salvation in Ephesians
    Here are the key reflections on the topic of salvation in Ephesians in my series Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor