Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Completing Das' Paul and the Jews

I finished A. Andrew Das' Paul and the Jews. I have four items:

1. On page 151, Das states: "After the Damascus Road experience, [Paul] simply realized he had been wrong about the Law as an approach to salvation and that it did not possess the gracious elements that he had assumed as a Jew. All of these benefits are located in Christ." But how did Paul, as a Christian, deal with the gracious provisions of the law, such as sacrifices for atonement, or repentance? Do not these elements of the law demonstrate that the law has gracious provisions and thus can give life? I wish that Das had wrestled with these questions a bit more. But there's a good chance that all one can really do is speculate on this issue, unless one can interpret Paul to be addressing it. Perhaps the answer to these questions is that, for Paul, the law does not adequately remedy the problem of sin, even with the atonement sacrifices and repentance, for people still have a carnal nature that is contrary to the law, which is why Christ is so necessary.

2. More than once, Das distinguishes between obeying the law and fulfilling it. Das notes that Paul talks about Christians fulfilling the law, not obeying every single detail of it. What does fulfilling the law mean, according to Das? On page 156, Das states that, "by charting an independent course from the Law, the path of the Spirit, the Christian will ultimately arrive at the destination toward which the Law had been pointing all along." The destination, presumably, is love. Das also points out that parts of the law give way to Christ, meaning they are nullified: circumcision, and other laws separating Jews from Gentiles. Das' characterization of Paul's stance towards the law makes sense to me, and yet it doesn't. Does Paul believe that the law has been completely nullified and has been replaced with the path of the Spirit, which overlaps with the law in areas? Or does Paul think that the Mosaic law is normative, except for the parts that have been superseded by Christ? Perhaps there's a degree of truth in both options----that Paul believes that life in the Spirit overlaps with the law, which has good principles, since it is from God, and yet parts of the law are not normative.

3. On page 173, Das says something that's rather puzzling for him, in his interpretation of Philippians 3: "Even as Christ did not take advantage of his equality with God (2:6), Paul did not take advantage of his privileges as a 'blameless' Law-observant Jew." My question is, "What privileges?" Das states on page 188 that, for Paul, "A Jewish way of life, including especially circumcision, Sabbath, the food laws, and Law observance, no longer marked the elect and chosen people guaranteed a place in the world to come." Das narrates that Paul came to believe that "Judaism apart from God's Messiah did not----could not----proffer God's grace and a place in the world to come." Lloyd Gaston believes that Paul gave up the privileges of Judaism to become an apostate, but Gaston actually thinks that Paul did not deem Judaism (with or without Christ) to be an utter dead end. Das' characterization of Paul, however, does hold that Judaism is a dead end (though Das strongly argues that Paul believed there was hope for Israel after the flesh), plus Das shreds Gaston's arguments to pieces. So what privileges was Paul giving up? Or does Das mean that Paul gave up what he once considered to be privileges, but which actually were not such?

4. On page 195, Das favorably quotes Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin, who states: "Christians may hold any theology they wish, including supersessionism. (Why not? After all, biblical theology is supersessionist with respect to polytheists!) They just have to learn to let Jews live."

My sentiments are similar. I don't think that we should dramatically re-interpret Paul in the aftermath of Christian anti-Judaism or the Holocaust, for we should let Paul be Paul. I don't even think that demanding that all Christians avoid supersessionism makes much sense, for, the way that is often presented, it entails Christians saying that there is no advantage to being a Christian, and why would people choose to be Christians if such were the case? But I believe that Christianity, even when it is supersessionist, has a principle of love for others, and that principle condemns hostility towards Jews.

Overall, Das' approaches in this book are the same as mine (or, rather, my approaches are the same as his): He acknowledges points in the New Perspective, but he also believes that the Old Perspective has some strengths; he thinks that Paul believed Jews had to have faith in Christ; etc. But that's why Das' book did not intrigue me as much as, say, Lloyd Gaston's: Gaston said things that I had never read or heard before. But Das' book is still important, in my opinion, for it contains a history of scholarship on Paul and Judaism, and it also thoroughly evaluates the arguments of scholars. I also appreciated the book's personal touch, such as Das' reference to a Jewish classmate who got him thinking about the issue of different religions.

2 comments:

  1. Like you, I have been trying to figure out the relationship between Torah and Christian living. I did notice, however, that the Torah code seems not to have been monolithic in the Hebrew Scriptures. It developed and adapted to circumstances, such as regulations for actually occupying the land after 40 years of wandering. It also seems to have adapted to re-entering the land under Persian domination.

    Perhaps following Christ requires another adaptation?

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  2. Those are good points. I think people disagree on what those adaptations are----do we keep the Sabbath literally or spiritually? But there are adaptations, yet it's the same Torah.

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