Skip to content

Paul did not proselytise

Paul engaged vigorously in missionary efforts. But he didn’t proselytise. In my book, I argue that it is misleading to describe the apostle Paul’s mission in terms of “proselytism”.

I begin with an observation about the word itself:Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul's Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans

It must be noted from the outset that the modern term “proselytism” is itself misleading, because it does not really correspond with the second-temple Jewish term “proselyte.” In the scholarly literature, “proselytism” usually denotes an active effort to persuade non-Jews to become Jews. Yet when second-temple Jews use the term προσήλυτος, such active efforts are seldom in the foreground of the discussion. In the second-temple period, the term προσήλυτος tends to be reserved for direct citations or discussions of scriptural texts which describe foreigners residing in the land of Israel (Hebrew גֵּר). The Scriptures themselves are not concerned with whether or how to actively seek “proselytes,” but rather with how to treat any foreigners who happen to be in Israel. (p. 121)

However, even if we adopt the modern definition of “proselytism”–that is, “intentional activity on the part of Jews aimed at persuading non-Jews to become Jews” (p. 122)–it still does not adequately describe Paul’s ministry. I argue in detail against the thesis of Terence Donaldson that Paul viewed his Gentile converts as proselytes to a reconfigured Israel (Terence Donaldson, Paul and the Gentiles: Remapping the Apostle’s Convictional World, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997).

We may conclude, then, that Paul does not understand his mission to persuade Gentiles to believe in Christ as a form of Jewish “proselytism.” Although Paul speaks from a Jewish perspective, he does not regard Gentile Christ-believers as individuals who have now become “Jews.” Rather, he regards them as Gentiles who, through faith in Christ, have come to salvation alongside Jews. Indeed, if we were to view Paul’s mission in terms of Jewish “proselytism,” we would only obscure the Jew-Gentile dynamic which Paul is at pains to highlight in the outer frame of Romans. According to this dynamic, Jews and Gentiles share together in salvation, yet retain their distinct identities. (p. 125)

The full details of the argument and further references may be found in chapter 4 of the book (pp. 121-125). 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 inPaulRomans

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