Paul did not say he had abandoned “Judaism”

A new article in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament examines in detail the meaning of the words often translated as “Judaism” and “Judaize” in Galatians.

I and others have previously pointed out that the English term “Judaism” in Galatians 1:13–14 is too general and sweeping a translation of the rare word Ἰουδαϊσμός—it makes it sound as if Paul rejected the whole religion or lifestyle of the Jewish people. My brief argument, in my book about Paul’s Jewish identity, was:

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)

Lionel J. Windsor, 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), 89.

I later elaborated (critiquing James Dunn):

Galatians 1:13-14, then, is not making a direct statement about Paul’s rejection of “Second Temple Judaism”. Rather, Galatians 1:13-14 is simply saying that Paul had rejected one particular Jewish idea – Ἰουδαϊσμός. The Ἰουδαϊσμός Paul had rejected was a militaristic striving to preserve God’s people from contaminating influences, which he had expressed in his violent persecution of the Christian assemblies. Paul had repented of this attitude ofἸουδαϊσμός. The reason he rejected this form of violent striving is because of the revelation of Jesus Christ, which, among other things, made him realise that “all flesh”–i.e. both Jews and Gentiles–stand as sinners before God and in need of justification through faith in Christ (Gal 2:16ff.) In other words, Jews didn’t need protection from contamination by Gentiles. What they needed was justification through faith in Christ.

Lionel J. Windsor, “Did Paul reject ‘Judaism’?”, Forget the Channel

In a similar vein, but with much more detail and exploration of the implications for Galatians, Gil Arbiol argues that the word should be translated something like “the protection of Judaism”. So Galatians 1:13–14 is to be rendered:

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in the protection of Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in the protection of Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.

Galatians 1:13–14 as translated by Carlos Gil Arbiol, “Ioudaismos and Ioudaizō in Paul and the Galatian Controversy: An Examination of Supposed Positions,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament (October 2021).

Gil Arbiol explains:

Admittedly, if we translate ἰουδαϊσμός as ‘Judaism’ the text is clear and comprehensible. However, that possibility reflects and reinforces the idea that Paul set in motion the separation between Judaism and Christianity when he abandoned the former and founded a new religion following the divine revelation. As I have said above, this reading, in addition to being anachronistic, implies many exegetical and historical problems because Paul conceived of himself as a Judean his whole life, as he states in Phil. 3.3-6, 2 Cor. 11.22 or Rom. 11.1. So, if we take into account the previous conclusions, new possibilities shed light on Paul and his mission, because we can coherently accept that after his calling Paul was a Judean but no longer ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ.

What is the significance for understanding Paul’s relationship to Judaism after his encounter with Jesus?

This new purpose in his life reveals a deep change in his Judaism: Paul no longer conceives of it as under siege and in need of defence, but as good news to be spread (ἵνα εὐαγγελίζωμαι αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν). This personal transformation from looking inward to looking outward speaks of a new understanding of his own identity in Judaism in which spreading replaces protection.

Read the full article here.

See other posts on Paul within Judaism: