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ThLZ review: Paul and the Vocation of Israel

Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul's Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to RomansA review of my book Paul and the Vocation of Israel has appeared in the German journal Theologische Literaturzeitung. According to its website, “Die Theologische Literaturzeitung (ThLZ) is published monthly (in January / February and July / August as a double issue) and reviews nearly every major new release in German theology. It also reviews a wide range of publications from Anglo-American and Scandinavian countries as well as French, Spanish and Italian and other titles.” [translation]

I’ve translated the review of my book below for the sake of my English-speaking readers.


W.s Arbeit kommt das sicher zu weiterem exegetischen Nachdenken anregende Verdienst zu, Paulus’ Bemühung um Selbstvergewisserung mittels seiner Jesajarezeption aufgegriffen und in Bezug zu paulinischen Judentum-Aussagen gesetzt zu haben.

[Translation] Windsor’s work deserves credit as it will certainly stimulate further exegetical reflection. He has taken Paul’s efforts in self-identification, by means of his appropriation of Isaiah, and placed them in reference to Paul’s statements about Judaism.

 Original review (German)

Theologische Literaturzeitung

Felix John, “Windsor, Lionel J., Paul and the Vocation of Israel. How Paul’s Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans,” Theologische Literaturzeitung 2016/3 (March 2016): 203–205.

Translation (English):

This dissertation by Lionel J. Windsor, minister in the Anglican Church of Australia, was produced in Durham under the supervision of Francis Watson. Windsor’s interpretation of Paul can be classified – at least from an outsider’s point of view – as belonging to the “Paul within Judaism Perspective” (also: “The New View of Paul” or “Radical New Perspective on Paul”). Both developing and critiquing the New Perspective on Paul, Windsor argues that the Apostle here should be understood as entirely Jewish – even and especially in his role as missionary to the Gentiles. This reduces (at least initially) any fundamental opposition between Judaism and Christian faith. For Windsor, Paul’s apostolic self-understanding and his Jewish identity belong together. The Gentile mission is the direct expression of Paul’s Jewishness (p. 1) – this is Windsor’s conclusion from his analysis of relevant texts from Romans. The epistle to the Romans, furthermore, documents Paul’s preoccupation with the fact that the majority of his fellow Jews have understood their Jewishness in other ways. Windsor designates these the members of “mainstream” Judaism (p. 5), which he reconstructs through occasional references to external sources, especially Josephus and Philo. The decisive difference between Paul’s self-understanding as a Jew and the generally accepted understanding of Jewishness lies in the notion of the “vocation” (p. 9) of Israel, i.e. the role that God has given to his people with respect to the Gentiles.

After a brief overview of selected scholarly positions (pp. 22-43), Windsor lays the groundwork for his argument based on investigations of the Pauline terms “Jew”, “Israelite”, “Judaism”, “Hebrew”, and “circumcision” (pp. 44-95). In Paul’s view, the distinction between Jews and non-Jews is not at all a distinction between the spheres of salvation and damnation. Rather, for Paul, Jewish identity, even under the auspices of faith in Christ, plays a – indeed the – central role. This is because Israel has received divine revelation in the Scripture and the Law of Moses (cf. Rom 3:2). From this arises its specific calling with respect to the nations. However, what that calling actually meant was a matter of controversy. Before his conversion, Paul had more or less considered himself called to champion the purity of God’s people. Subsequently, however, on the basis of his knowledge of Christ, he had come to the insight that the mission to the Gentiles was an essential element – involving those in Israel going out taking universal divine salvation. In this context he had then understood himself as called to be a missionary to the Gentiles.

In the course of the argument and development of Paul’s position in Romans, the “Jewishness of Paul’s vocation” becomes apparent (pp. 96-139). The “Servant of Christ Jesus” (Rom 1:1) introduces himself as the representative of Israel (cf. Isa 49:3 LXX). He locates the Gentile mission he is pursuing in the context of the salvation which is for all Israel and the nations and that had been promised in the prophets (cf. Isa 40-55). The apostle to the nations aligns his ministry (Rom 15:14-21) with Israel’s priestly task (cf. Isa 60f.; Jer 1).

In Rom 2:17-29, a passage which is independent and does not constitute a direct continuation of 2:1-16, Paul enters into a critical dispute with Jewish (“synagogal”) identity. The self-understanding held by the (teacher of the) Torah (vv. 17-20) is deconstructed by Paul (vv. 21-27). It causes, in his view, the opposite of what was expected, and moreover would have been surpassed by law-abiding non-Jews. Jewish identity has, for Paul, its true place within the Christ-believing community (v. 28 f.). This verse does not have Gentile Christians (as a new “true” Israel) directly in view. It is also not about salvation. Rather, Paul is seeking to enact a shift of focus regarding the calling of Israel, in which he clarifies the true role of the Law: the Law no longer calls for the doing of the commandments, but rather serves to reveal sin, in order to lead to righteousness through faith.

Windsor reads Rom 9–11 as the climax of the apostolic self-reflection in the context of his fellow Jews (pp. 195-247). The person of the apostle forms the framework of the entire section. The overall theme is the tensions arising from Paul’s apostolic-Jewish existence. a) In 9:1-5, he is not expressing his grief over Israel’s unbelief, but rather over the fact that the people of God has not perceived its calling in regard to God’s intended plan for salvation. Paul emphases the privileges given to Israel, for instance the law. The true purpose of these must, however, be understood in relation to Christ. b) Israel, for Paul, misunderstands its mission (Rom 10:1-4). 10:4 is not establishing any “new Christian pattern of religion” (p. 215). It is here speaking of Christ as the goal or fulfilment of the law. c) Paul justifies his mission to the Gentiles (Rom 10:8) through his (Christological) interpretation of the law. d) Rom 10:14-18 demonstrates that the Jewish Christian mission among the Gentiles immediately serves God’s eschatological saving work. Mainstream Judaism misunderstands this task (vv. 19-21). e) Romans 11:1 marks the turning-point of the section. Precisely in his role as missionary to the Gentiles, Paul depicts himself as the paradigm for Israel. f) In Rom 11:11-14, the Apostle binds together his own understanding of Jewish Identity with the common understanding, so that he can announce the salvation of all Israel (11:15f.). Israel, Paul hopes, is no longer at a standstill in misunderstanding its calling, but rather is being caught up, through the beginnings of the salvation of the Gentiles, in the end-times. Through his mission to the Gentiles, Paul also spurs on more fellow-Jews to acknowledge Christ.

Windsor’s work deserves credit as it will certainly stimulate further exegetical reflection. He has taken Paul’s efforts in self-identification, by means of his appropriation of Isaiah, and placed them in reference to Paul’s statements about Judaism. Whether the potential of the texts under examination is fully exhausted within the limited framework of this fundamental concept – i.e. Paul’s apostolic-Jewish existence – remains an open question. The question cannot be exhaustively pursued here. Essentially, each individual text must be examined to see if it does not end up losing its own integrity when subjected to the overall construct of the reading of Paul Windsor has offered. For instance, with respect to Windsor’s interpretation of Rom 9-11 – but also with respect to further texts, both the ones treated and the ones only touched on in his work – some critical inquiry may be made into whether the following questions have been fully fathomed: How and how deeply does faith in Christ, from Paul’s point of view, change Jewish (and Gentile) identity? And does the discourse still have to be interpreted in such a novel way?

The problem of Paul’s self-understanding as Jew and Christ-preacher ought to be discussed on further levels, beyond the framework of Windsor’s work. Consideration in this could be given not only to Paul’s dealings with markers of Jewish identity, but also to the web of relationships from non-Christ-believing Jewish, Jewish-Christian, Gentile-Christian and pagan perspectives, as well as those of early receptions of Paul. Ideally, if this were done, there may emerge the beginnings of an increasing dialogue between the current conflicting directions in Pauline studies.

Dr. Felix John

(Note: this is a translation by Lionel Windsor from the German; read the original review here)

For more on the book Paul and the Vocation of Israel:

Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul's Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to RomansWindsor, 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 inRomans

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