The Apostle Paul and the Jews

'One of the great tragedies of Church history is that in its early days it turned the Apostle Paul into a legalistic chauvinist...nowhere is this more evident than in the Jewish question.'

THE APOSTLE PAUL 311 (photo credit: bringonthegoodnewsblogspotcom)
(photo credit: bringonthegoodnewsblogspotcom)
One of the great tragedies of Church history is that in its early days it turned the Apostle Paul into a legalistic chauvinist and abandoned his wonderfully rich, refreshing, spiritual vitality. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Jewish question.
We cannot understand the evil of the early Gentile Church’s negative approach to the Jewish people unless we make clear how far this was from Paul’s thinking and actions. So we will look at some of the attitudes of Paul toward Jews and Israel, bearing in mind that on more than one occasion he asked his readers to imitate God and him (1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1). In this case they did not.
1. First, Paul clearly said in Romans 11:13 that he wanted his fellow Jews to be saved. Yes, he was sent to the Gentiles, but he also had a heart for his own Jewish people.
2. In no way did he idealize Jews or romanticize them as some Christian Zionists seem to do today. He recognized they opposed the Gospel and were working against the Church. Unfortunately, these aspects of his teachings were magnified by the early Church, while his more philo-Semitic teachings were ignored, such as those that follow.
3. Paul recognized that even though they were displeasing to God, they were beloved of Him for the sake of the fathers – meaning the Patriarchs (Romans 11:28-29). Paul knew that if God loved them, so must he, and so must believing Gentiles.
4. Paul did love them. He said he had a continual sadness, a constant pain, in his heart for them. Like Moses, he was even willing to forfeit his own salvation for their sake. Indeed, Romans 9:1-4 is one of the most incredible, heart-wrenching passages in the Bible. Paul seems to know that it was difficult to believe and calls upon the Messiah and the Holy Spirit as witnesses. I believe, then, that Paul’s heavy burden for the Jewish people was God pleading through him (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). I believe Romans 9:1- 4 shows us God’s heart toward the Jews as much as Paul’s. These are sentiments that God wants His church to share; but it has taken us nearly 2,000 years, and the Holocaust, to realize that.
5. Just as God’s love is not (merely) sentimental but sacrificial, so Paul’s words were not rhetoric or good feelings but proven fact. In 2 Corinthians 11:24, he writes that he received 39 lashes on his back five times from the Jews. That’s having yourself whipped 195 times. Just what did Paul’s back look like? The point however is this: You go to a place in love once and they beat you; most of us would give up and go somewhere more welcoming. A few might try a second time. They get beaten up again. Who would go a third time? Or a fourth? Well, Paul wrote that he had gone five times (and maybe more afterward). But he was even willing to go the distance for them.
I weep as I write this. Just how can a man love so much? Because Christ lived in him, and loved through him. There is no trace here of Jew-hating, burning synagogues or forced baptisms. There is just an appeal for love. As an imitator of Jesus, that was the model Paul left for the Church – a model that would be totally ignored for far too long by the Gentile Church.
Editor’s note: Rev. Anthony Rozinni is an Assemblies of God pastor and Bible-school teacher in Italy. His studies for a master’s degree included reading extensively about the Church Fathers and their hostile attitudes toward the Jewish people. This is the second in a series of articles concerning the rise of anti-Semitism in the early Church.