Thursday, November 17, 2011

Completing Watson's Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach

I finished Francis Watson's Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach.

I referred yesterday to Watson's statement (which appears on page 121) that, in Romans 2, Paul separates the law from the Jewish community in his insistence that Gentiles can fulfill the requirements of the law when they follow what is written on their consciences. In my reading today, however, Watson argues that Paul viewed the law as inseparable from the Jewish community. As I look back at page 121, I see that Watson holds that Paul is not exactly consistent in his approach to the law: Paul in Romans 2 maintains that Gentiles can keep the law, whereas Paul in Romans 3 treats the law as inseparable from the Jewish community. Moreover, Watson notes, Paul views Christian living as the fulfillment of the law's essence, so he obviously believes that the law has relevance for Christians, even if he thought that only Israelites were technically "under the law".

Still, Watson appears to argue that many of Paul's points about the law are for the benefit of Jewish Christians. Watson thinks that Paul's discussion in Romans 7 was designed to encourage Jewish Christians to leave Judaism, and, while Watson speculates that Paul's quotation of "Thou shalt not covet" is hearkening back to Eve's desire for the forbidden fruit in the story of Genesis 2-3, Watson maintains that an analogy is being made here between the sin of Adam and the sin of Israel under the law. Watson also contends that Paul is trying to show that the law places Jews under the same status of guilt that the Gentiles have. For Watson, Paul was contending against a view within Judaism that Jews would be saved through their ancestry from Abraham or their circumcision. Watson refers to Exodus Rabbah 19 (81c), which affirms that the circumcised will not enter Gehenna, as well as Apocalypse Abraham 22, which avers that the saved are Abraham's seed. Paul, in contrast, asserted that the circumcised would be judged harshly if they did not keep the law.

But Watson states that Paul was attempting to refute other Jewish views as well, such as the idea (found in Jubilees and elsewhere) that Abraham kept the law. Paul's point is that Abraham was justified by faith, apart from circumcision and the observance of the Torah. Watson's argument is that Paul viewed faith in Christ as a way to include the Gentiles into the community of God's people, and Paul sought to nullify the notion that Jews had a special status before God----via election, circumcision, or possession of the law. Yet, Watson acknowledges that Paul in Romans 11 recognizes the special status of Israel. Watson attempts to understand what is going on here, not through an attempt to harmonize Paul, but rather through consideration of the Epistle to the Romans' social context and function, which involved the union of Jewish and Gentile Christians.

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