The Apostle Paul And The Old Testament

What if the Jewish nation had accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord? Hypothetical I know, but how would he have died? Would it have been ordained at the hands of the High Priest or ? ? ? – like Abraham who was commanded to slay his son Isaac, and according to Hebrews 11:17-19, in intention he “offered Isaac as a sacrifice,” and “figuratively speaking he did receive Isaac back from the dead.” Would Genesis 22:21-19 have been included among the many Old Testament passages in the Emmaus road discourse with the two disciples as prefiguring his death, when he stated in the imperative that “Christ had to suffer these things and then enter his glory” (Luke 24: 25-27; 44-46)?

With Christ as risen Lord and Saviour would the nation of Israel have then become the centre to which all nations of the earth would be invited to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour, which was God’s intention for Israel in the first place (Genesis 22: 15-18), when God put his people on the crossroads of the then nations of the world (Ezekiel 5:5)?

What gave rise to this thought is an article in Christianity Today by Timothy Gombis who is associate professor of New Testament at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and the author of Paul: A Guide for the Perplexed (T and T Clark).

I am assuming, quite safely I think, that if Jesus had been accepted by the Jewish nation as their Messiah, and following his death and resurrection had become Christ the Lord to his nation, that the nation of Israel would then have carried out the intentions of their Lord of welcoming all nations to come under the rule and blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ as promised to Abraham. With that thought in mind can we assume there would have been no New Testament, at least not in the way we now have it. What then would have been different about the teachings of Judaism – would we have needed the epistles of the Apostle Paul to explain the teachings of the Old Testament and the way of salvation?

There are Christians today who would abandon the Old Testament as obsolete, even having those in Old Testament times as saved under a different dispensation or system, that of salvation by works, while in contrast the New Testament teaches salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Very unfair it seems to me and difficult to see how this can be when pervading the whole of the New Testament is the authoritative teachings of the Old Testament. And whatever the Apostle Paul extrapolated from the Old Testament it was never salvation by works, but salvation by faith in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 11:4-12:2 makes it quite clear that the Old Testament ‘celebrities’ in Jewish thinking were all examples of how we are to be saved.

So to come to Gombis, once the Apostle Paul became a Christian, did he become anti-Jewish? What would he have left out of Jewish belief and practice and what would he have maintained as necessary to the Gospel?

Gombis certainly doesn’t see Paul as anti-Jewish following his conversion to Christianity. For Gombis, Paul remained a Jew. “ Paul saw no contradiction at all between his commitment to Christ and his faithful participation in Jewish practices. Explaining his ministry before a variety of audiences, Paul emphasized his Jewish identity and claimed to be acting in faithfulness to the God of Israel. To King Agrippa, he again claims to be a Pharisee whose hope is in the promises of God to Israel (Acts 26:4-6).”

For Gombis, “Paul never calls upon Jews to reject Judaism. Instead, he exhorts them to recognize Jesus as their Messiah and welcome his non-Jewish followers as siblings in God’s new family. We get a glimpse of his preaching to Jews in Acts 17:1-3: “When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said.””

For Gombis, The Apostle Paul was faithful both to the Scriptures (which was the Old Testament) and to his Jewish heritage. He would have seen the Old Testament Tabernacle system had run its course in all it predicted of the Messiah to come (Matthew 27:50-51). No more priests or sacrifices. Just one faithful High Priest and one Sacrifice, ‘he sacrificed once and for all’ (Hebrews 8:1-2;7:25-27).The Apostle faithfully preached Jesus as the Messiah to both Israel and to all non-Jews (Gentiles). All would become siblings in God’s global family in Christ (Romans 8:17; 1 John 3:1-2).

Gombis is quite right of course about the Apostle Paul’s loyalty to his own people. He would give his own life for them if it would mean they would be redeemed and saved in God’s kingdom (Romans 9:1-5; 11:1-6). So how much of the Old Testament would the Apostle Paul have retained and what would he have discarded? In writing, The Paul We Think We Know, perhaps Gombis did not intend me to ask those questions, but it is what I found myself asking. Maybe I should buy his book, Paul: A Guide For The Perplexed.

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