An article by Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg and Ewelina Drela.

A young man once came to a Rabbi and said, “Rabbi, I don’t really know what to do. There is this one woman, we love each other, but she and I are very poor so what good would it do if we get married and have children?! We won’t be able to help anyone and our whole lives will be aimed at survival. On the other hand, there is another woman. I don’t love her, but she really loves me and she is rich. May be I should marry her? Rabbi, what do you think?”

The Rabbi: “Well… That’s it. It’s decided. Marry the rich woman. It will be well.”

The man, after thinking for a month said: “Rabbi, you know… I’ve been thinking about your advice. I am really not sure about it after all. You see, if I marry this well-to-do woman, we will be able to do many good things in the community, but I will be miserable all my life, and in the long run she too will be very unhappy. Perhaps I should after all think about marrying the poor woman I love. What do you think?”

The Rabbi: “Have you considered converting to Christianity? I have a wonderful priest down the road to refer you to.”

In this joke, the Rabbi has the luxury of thinking that his own professional troubles (such as counselling indecisive young Jews about personal matters) could be solved by advising conversion to another religion thus the problem becomes someone else’s. Paul and others in the first century Roman Empire had no such luxury.

Saul vs. Paul

It is a common thing for modern Christ-followers, who are keenly aware of the Jewish Background of New Testament Scriptures, to struggle with how “the beloved apostle” should be referred to? Do we refer to him as Rav Shaul (Rabbi Saul) as many today do? Do we keep on calling him with the non-Jewish sounding phrase Apostle or perhaps even St. Paul? Do we do something far less practical, but more true to history and refer to him as Saul/Paul? These and other question you are asking are perfectly legitimate.

Nobody knows how he got his Latin name Paul (the name is actually not Greek). Given the fact that he was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28) it is likely that both Jewish and Roman names were given to him at birth. The Greek versions of both Saul (Σαῦλος) and Paul (Παῦλος) are remarkably similar. In fact, they are different by only one beginning letter. This practice of matching names was wide-spread.[1] Another well-known example of such a double name would be John Mark. John or Yohanan – a Hebrew name and Mark or Markus a Latin one (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37).

It is interesting that Luke (and Luke’s Jesus) uses his Hebrew name Saul first, but at some point later (Acts 13:9), and that unconnected to his Road to Damascus experience that happens way earlier (Acts 9:4), begins to call him Paul.

What may be significant is that Saul was the first king of Israel, and in spite of his eventual fall, was characterized by large and strong body, continuing in some way to inspire Jewish devotion in naming children. Not only King Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, but so was the legendary Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel who lived before Jesus.

Incidentally, Paul makes a reference to his affiliation with this particular tribe as one of his reasons for his human confidence (Phil.3:5). In opposition to that, “Paul” in Latin means “small” or “little”. So, the switch (if there was ever one indeed) is better explained not by Paul’s so-called “conversion from Judaism to Christianity”, but by his own realization, and perhaps accompanied by his direct request to Luke, of his own standing before his God. In fact as his life progressed, so progressed this realization of his own sense of smallness and weakness before the grandeur and power of his no longer tribal deity (1 Cor.15:9; Eph.3:8; 2 Cor.12:9).

The Road to Damascus

Discovering the Jewish Apostle Paul for me started with rethinking what most normative Christ-followers today routinely and mistakenly call “Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.” The Apostle Paul himself wrote about his experience in Gal. 1:15-16:

But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Nations …

Even after this call of God on his life, Paul was able to defend himself in the Sanhedrin against false accusations, as we read in Acts 23:6:

Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!

Shaul Paulos’s writings are the only surviving letters authored by a Pharisee. All of them were the letters of a Jewish Pharisee, called by the Jewish Christ to the service of Israel’s God, addressed to the followers of the same Jewish Christ among the Nations of the world. As we will see, this perspective will become very important as we seek to make sense of the seemingly conflicting and self-contradictory writings of the Apostle Paul.

As you can surely anticipate, I will seek to convince you that Paul (Paulos) was not converted from Judaism to Christianity. Instead, Paulos as he called himself in his own surviving writings, was called to the service of Israel’s God as were many other Israelite prophets. Before he personally encountered Yeshua/Jesus on road to Damascus, he was a pharisaic Jew. After that earth-shaking encounter, however, something dramatic had happened. He became an apocalyptic and Christ-following pharisaic Jew.

I, among many others when discussing the kind of Jew Apostle Paul was, use the word “apocalyptic” to qualify something very important about him. I do of course realize that it introduces a little difficulty into the discussion, but I nevertheless prefer to raise, clarify and establish this point, because I think it is crucial for understanding the Jewishness of Shaul Paulos in a proper way. By him becoming an “apocalyptic Jew” I mean that he came to the realization not only that Jesus was the Messiah, but that the time of both Israel’s and therefore the entire world’s redemption was finally and suddenly within reach of his generation.

After the initial shock, Shaul Paulos concluded, The time when God will intervene into the world history on a colossal scale must have arrived. He was wrong and those whom he persecuted with such a vigour and passionate, were right. We, who have the privilege of hindsight, can also see that Shaul Paulos was also partially right. Even though he rightly understood that the new age (the-world-to-come) has begun (for example, in Eph. 2:6), he mistakenly thought that Christ Jesus would return in his own lifetime. But this can hardly be held against this great Jewish teacher. He himself was very much aware of his limitations “…now I know in part, but then I will know fully…” (1 Cor.13:12).

It may sound that this is only semantics (“was he an apocalyptic Jew?”, “wasn’t he apocalyptic Jew?”), but I respectfully disagree. These are crucial trajectories of thought that will guide you and me as interpreters of Paul’s letters, depending on these starting points, to one set of conclusions or another.

Was Shaul Paulos called to God’s service at the revelation of the Jewish Christ, or has he, as many erroneously believe, left the religion called “Judaism”[2] and joined a new religion called “Christianity” that he himself established? How we answer this question (was he converted or called) will influence in the most dramatic way possible how we will interpret his surviving letters.

The birth of Christianity as a religion

The idea that Paul converted to Christianity is not new. In fact, its roots go down deep in history when Gentile Christ-followers sometime around the 3rd century sought to decisively separate from any Jewish authority structures and ended up in every way separating from almost everything Jewish. One such obvious decision had to do with the calendar. The non-Jewish followers of Jesus, just like the Jews, believed that the holidays described in the Torah such as Pesach (Passover) and Shavout (Pentecost) must be perpetually observed, but

  1. they interpreted them differently and
  2. they certainly did not want to wait from year to year for the time when the Jewish authorities would correlate the Israelite holiday schedule with the Roman imperial one.

The non-Jewish Christ-following movement, it could be argued, formally became the religion we call “Christianity” when it redefined the Israelite feasts in opposition to Jewish traditional practices and when its powerbrokers set its dates to be purposely unconnected with existing Israelite calendars. It was the struggle of the leaders for power, authority, influence and theological independence that has led to this separation.

A short side trip into church history will make this more concrete in our minds. In many predominantly Christian countries, the festival of Easter until today is called by a different name that has no audible connection with the English word “Easter” – the “Christian Passover.” Why is this? It is simply because the Christian theological logic went as follows: In the resurrection of Jesus, the judgment of God passed over sinners’ heads, just as it passed over the heads of the Israelites in their exodus from ancient Egypt.

You see, all second and third century Christ-followers celebrated a festival that much later would be known as Easter – it had been called Pascha (“Passover” in Syriac/Aramaic) or Peisach (“Passover” in Hebrew). Over time, Christian and Jewish leaders worked hard to create a clear separation between these two faith communities. The question for the emergent non-Israelite Christ-following movement was not whether or not Biblical feasts such as Passover should be observed, but rather how and when.

There were many who held that this Pascha/Peisach had to be commemorated on the same date as the Jewish (and Biblical Israelite) Passover on the 14th of Nissan in order to maintain the continuity with ancient practice. The majority of the Christ-following gentile leaders, however, had a serious objection to this.[3] The issue was submission to the local Jewish (non-Christ-following) religious authorities. The logic went like this: “We have discovered the truth in Jesus, but they without accepting God’s Son will decide when we should celebrate it.” It may be said that this was an unfortunate situation that had no easy solution. The time when Jews, in this case Christ-following Jews in Acts 15, made decisions about what the Nations should do and not do was effectively over.

By the third century of the Common Era a new generation of leaders was born and raised, leading the Jesus movement in another direction. They were not born Jews as Peter and Paul (Gal.2:15), nor were they discipled by those guided by the Jerusalem council’s decisions that demanded good relationships with the Jewish community.[4] In fact, the opposite was the case many of them were brought up in the anti-Jewish circles within Roman political climate, importing from there the harmful thinking into a newly born “Christian” (2-3 century) community of precious people, who sought to worship Christ Jesus and the God of the entire world from with the pure heart. The history took an unexpected turn and its final chapters are yet to be written.

Most of these new leaders, many of whom we now call the Church fathers, had to read and interpret what eventually became known as the New Testament collection originally authored by Christ-following Israelites,[5] were not at all familiar with its original Jewish setting. Given these circumstances the enormous challenge of interpretation these sacred scriptures, perhaps predictably, has overcome their once Jewish origins and setting. Tragically, the majority of the Jesus movement began to follow a mistaken trajectory that has led this new community into an almost entirely non-Israelite frame of reference.

Paul’s former ways in Judaism

One of the texts authored by Shaul Paulos, because it was interpreted outside of its original context, contributed to the idea that he converted from Judaism to Christianity. This text is found in his letter to the followers of the Jewish Christ residing in Galatia (Gal.1:13). There we read:

For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the ekklesia[6] of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. (Gal. 1:11-14 NASB)

First, English translations of the New Testament tend to use modern clarification terminology that cause significant changes of interpretive trajectories and exclude other “less desirable,” according to the establishment, interpretive translation options. One example is “Judaism” (Iudaismos). A more accurate translation would be “Jewishness” or better yet “Judean ancestral ways,” as Paulos in the end of his long sentence defines it himself.

As we will discuss later, Judaism as a religion was understood as such only later, after the deaths of Jesus, Paul and all the other original apostles. Certainly, it did not mean what it meant later. This is a very important point

At the time of Shaul Paulos, Judaism and Christianity did not yet exist. The word translated “Judaism” in modern language at that time would have been – “Jewishness” or “Jewish ancestral (tribal) ways of life.” “Christianity” was not yet formed as an identity. Therefore, the language Shaul Paulos used in the above text cannot be interpreted to mean that he was abandoning the religion called “Judaism” in favor of the religion called “Christianity.”

In the above quoted text, the choices are not between Judaism and Christianity, i.e. the former way of Judaism vs. the newer way of Christianity, but it is rather a comparison between Paul’s former ways and his newfound ways, i.e. Christ-centered and apocalyptic Judaism.[7]

Second, the word in Koine (Judeo-Greek) is ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) – “a gathering of the called out ones” is translated anachronistically in our Bibles as Church. While this word had potential to become a Christian concept (as it later did) it was certainly not a uniquely Christian concept in the 1st century. Jews and Greeks both used this word to describe all types of gatherings. The Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) is a translation of the Hebrew wordקָּהָל  (kahal) – a gathering, congregation or even a crowd. In Greek literature, for example, ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) became a technical expression for the assembly of people consisting of free men entitled to vote. This same word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) was used in the Judeo-Greek Septuagint (LXX) to describe Israel standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Hence the confusing, but in many ways more consistent, KJV translation of the “church (instead of Israel) in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38).

Third, it is interesting that while we normally refer to the Apostle Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles, according to Luke’s testimony, this is not what Jesus himself called him. The Jewish Christ, addressing Ananias (חנניה), said that Paul was to be a chosen instrument to both the Nations and Israel, as well as to their leadership structures. In Acts 9:15-16 we read:

“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9: 13-16)

Later, when Paul calls himself an Apostle to the Gentiles (Nations/Peoples), this was not, as is widely assumed, meant to highlight his exclusive mission to people of the world; but instead to affirm his strong commitment to the ministry among the Nations as well. This was never divorced from his ministry to Israel (Rom. 11). Shaul Paulos understood that those things were irrevocably bound together.

Conversions to and away from Judaism

In the world of Shaul Paulos, things were clear. Everyone knew what conversion meant and what it did not mean. Essentially, conversion was fully unjoining one people and fully joining another. So sympathies for the traditions of other people were considered exactly as being sympathetic. Sometimes these sympathises/partial practices were viewed as dangerous, sometimes they were viewed as fully acceptable. However, as long as they did not cross the lines of full abandonment of their own ancestral ways, they were still not qualified as “conversion.”

In fact, Roman authors saw conversions as a real threat, and they therefore used their writing skills to fight the phenomenon in every way, seeking to preserve the highly segregated Roman society “as is.”

The social structure of ancient Rome was based on heredity, property, wealth, citizenship and freedom. It was also based on men. Women were defined by the social status of their fathers or husbands. The boundaries between different classes were strict and legally enforced. Members of different classes even dressed differently. For example, in the Roman Colosseum, sections for seating were class-based, reflecting this cast-like system of heightened status difference. So Paul’s strong affirmation of the end of segregation and discrimination in the body of Christ gained a particular importance in this context. There is truly neither Judean nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ. Roman segregation barriers and discrimination have no place in communities that honour the God of the Hebrew Bible as revealed in Christ Jesus (Gal.3:27-29).

Testimonies of Ancient authors

Various Greco-Roman authors were unhappy about the great success of Jewish ingathering (conversion) activities in the Roman Empire. Here are a few examples:

Decimus Lunius Luvenalis, known as Juvenal from end of 1st beginning of 2nd century CE, was a Roman satiric poet and teacher who described life in Rome under several emperors. He wrote:

A father sleeps more each 7th day (within a 10 day Roman week), avoiding pork, the next thing that happens is that his sons become circumcised, keep Moses’ laws and despise the laws of Rome. (Juvenal, Satires 14.96-106).

The author of this text understood that the Shabbat that Roman God-fearers seem to have observed was the beginning of a slippery slope leading to full proselyte conversion; where, in the end, a law-abiding Roman citizen would adopt the rites of the Judeans and claim exemption and protection from the Roman laws.

Publius Cornelius Tacitus, usually called Tacitus (56 -117 CE), was a senator, a historian and orator in the Roman Empire. His famous surviving works are Annals and Histories. He wrote that people who converted to the Judean way of life:

abandoned the practices of their fathers. They disowned their own gods, their own country and their own family. (Tacitus, History 5:1-2).

Celsus was 2nd CE century Hellenistic philosopher opposed to Early Christ-followers. The church father Origen preserved his words in his apologetic work against Celsus’ rhetoric. There we read:

If the Jews maintained their own law, we should not find fault with them, but rather with those who have abandoned their own traditions and professed those of the Jews. (Origen, Contra Celsum 5.41)

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, also known as Seneca the Younger was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist and humorist. Speaking of the Jews, he [Seneca] says:

Meanwhile the customs of this accursed race have gained such influence that they are now received throughout all the world. The vanquished have given laws to their victors. (Seneca quoted by Augustine, City of God, c. 5 BCE–65 CE)

The following example clearly shows that Jews too joined others in full conversion, this time away from Judaism:

In those days, certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, ‘Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.’ This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil. (1 Macc. 1:11-15)

Conversion as an experience of radical abandonment of one’s religious and ethical identity was known in antiquity. But this was definitely not Paul’s experience. Paul did not abandon Judaism, but “converted” from one variety of Judaism to another – from one way within Judaism to another (Jesus-centred, apocalyptic Judaism). He was and continued to be a Jewish Pharisee who was saved by the grace of Israel’s God and called into his unique service to be God’s instrument among both Israel and the Nations. It is with understanding of this basic idea that we must retranslate and reread Shaul Paulos in our own time. I believe the final chapter of Christian understanding of this great Jewish man has not yet been written.

 

[1] While this insight is not original to him I am indebted for it to my colleague Prof. Peter Shirokov.

[2] There are other anachronistic and interpretive problems here with which we will deal a little later.

[3] The so called Quartodeciman position (from the Latin for “fourteen” of Nissan) was declared heretical and people observing Passover according to a major Jewish calendar were excommunicated.

[4] An example, Polycarp who was discipled by (Jewish) John, the most-likely author of the Gospel of John should not be dismissed, but critically considered. There are many kinds of misconceptions and anachronisms that are present in the common and usually unchallenged account of what took place in the city of Smyrna with the martyrdom of Polycarp. When he was offered life in exchange for a public denial of Jesus and acceptance of the Roman Emperor as Caesar he uttered his now iconic words: “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has never done me wrong; how, then, can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour!” The story of Polycarp’s Martyrdom, though being one of the greatest stories that inspired millions of Christians for greater commitment to the Lord, may not be historical at its very important points. At the very least, its authenticity is significantly weakened by the lack of earlier sources. The earliest manuscripts are dated to the tenth century CE and come across as containing many inspirational Christian interpellations. This becomes clear when the story of the Martyrdom of Polycarp is compared to the account as told by Eusebius in his Church History written in the fifth century CE. The differences are considerable. There are other issues such as literary parallels with the passion of Christ that are doubtfully coincidental. Moreover, by the fifth century CE, the Christ-followers had already developed what could be called Historic Non-Jewish (and often anti-Jewish) Christianity. Therefore, it is doubtful that documents coming from the quills of fifth century Christian historians such as Eusebius should be completely trusted, especially when they involve the Jews. My point here is not that the totality of Eusebius’ account of the Martyrdom of Polycarp is untrue. But that we simply do not have ideologically independent and reliable sources to establish the details of the Martyrdom, especially those that involve the Jews of Smyrna. The document claims that they led the way and encouraged the murder of St. Polycarp. It is in fact more likely, that this detail (the Jews in the Polycarp account) was inserted into the early true account based on a misreading of persecution of Christ-followers by those who, in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 2:9), falsely claimed to be Jews. The accuracy of Eusebius’s account has often been called into question, both today and in antiquity. For example, in the 5th century, the Christian historian Socrates Scholasticus described Eusebius as writing for “rhetorical finish” and for the “praises of the Emperor” rather than the “accurate statement of facts.” (Socrates Scholasticus, Church History, Book 1.1). The historical methods of Eusebius have been criticized by many scholars, and show that at least his chronology was something between an exact science and an instrument of the by now Christian Roman Imperial propaganda. My suggestion, therefore, is to leave the story of the dating and the authenticity of these materials to the scholars of later periods and not to allow the accounts of Polycarp (whether they are true, false or only partially so) to interfere with our readings of earlier well-attested New Testament documents.

[5] See my discussion on the possible Jewishness of Luke in the appendix.

[6] Translated traditionally as “Church” vs. “Israel” as “community/gathering of called out ones” is the case in Septuagint’s rendering of Hebrew “Kahal” (קהל).

[7] I use Judaism here not in the sense of religion, but in the sense of the “whole package” of Jewish experience that includes a religion component.

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

72 COMMENTS

  1. You wrote: The Greek versions of both Saul (Σαῦλος) and Paul (Παῦλος) are remarkably similar. In fact, there are different by only one beginning letter.

    You should change “there” in the second sentence to “they” and it should read: In fact, they are different…

  2. Wow, I am in awe of your scholarship. This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read, perhaps because it vindicates what I have tried to communicate to others throughout the years. I always felt something was missing in my understanding of Adonai’s Word, especially the Renewed Covenant. When I first heard the phrase, the Old Covenant is the dictionary of the Renewed Covenant; and the Renewed Covenant is the roof of the entire House (Word) and the Old Covenant is the foundation, I began to understand what you wonderfully and masterfully articulated in this article.

  3. Your summary here is like the nutrition that has been missing in areas where only desert is served. You can’t survive on sweets and pastries. I’d love to make Aliyah and just focus on studying Torah forever! Torah is never ending. When you think you’ve just understood something new, you realize that the more you know the more you actually don’t know. Thank you for blessing us with your scholarship and an accurate way of understanding the Truth about Torah.

    • Pastor Ralph W. Sockman said, “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” So true!

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Stories of Jewish Christ: First Century Diversity or Jewish Insights Into Scriptures I. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

    • Hello EG, knowledge comes from study & good teachers; but understanding God alone can give, then you will also understand as you ought, as the scripture says. So happy devotional time w God getting to know Him & His work through His words in thoughts which is why we must clean our mind from our own personal issues & demonic influences by God’s given ways & methods. Cheers!

  4. You wrote: “Even though [Paul] rightly understood that the new age…has begun…he mistakenly thought that Christ Jesus would return in his own lifetime.” I would suggest that Paul was correct in his belief regarding an imminent Parousia. This is a huge topic, but for starters I think it is helpful to compare Matthew 24 (keeping in mind v. 34) with various Roman historians’ accounts of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (Tacitus, “The History” & Josephus, “Wars of the Jews”).

  5. Excellent — but, I humble suggest, not “perfect,” The reference to power-brokers undercuts the academic quality of the exercise, but I really would rather concentrate on more significant points. First, Paul clearly anticipated Jesus’ imminent return when he wrote what we know as 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians, but read again Philippians, and I think his understanding of the resurrection of the rest of us has changed from a parousia to something more like what we find in the Gospel According to John — something that happens at death. Also, while I suspect that without question it was first Jews

  6. Before I enter into a discussion of your article (which is superb!) I should point out that Juvenal’s name should be written Decimus Junius Juvenalis (using I-longa which is not really an ancient Roman letter.) YOu have raised a number of interesting and important points, not least amongst them being that Paul had become an apocalyptic Jew. I think there is ample evidence to support you in this claim.

  7. The whole concept of religion wasn’t really current in those days at all, certainly not as we understand it today. Three of the world’s great religions of today didn’t exist, and the two others (Hinduism and Buddhism) don’t really consider themselves as religions, anyway, rather ‘ways of life.’ But one can certainly convert from Hinduism, in the sense you say. There were various Gods, usually associated with either Rome, or Greece or Egypt etc. To change from worshipping these to worshipping the one true God and Jesus Christ his son was truly conversion, but Paul continued to worship YHWH.

    • It seems like it’s no conversion; but is you look even at the light of Christians & Jews, we cannot even be together if not for a business or other matters; even Messianic Jews who do both walk a different path (if I may call it that); Peter did instruct the Jews to “convert” in Acts 3:19. Peace!

      • Four times the NT quotes Isa.6:9-10 using this same Greek word (επιστρέψατε). Was God asking the Jewish people in Isaiah’s day to convert? This is an anachronism caused by older translations like KJV. The word is best translated by “turn back.”

      • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Story of Our Hebrew Fathers: Abraham and Isaac or Leviticus and The New Testament. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

        • I am not sure why you use the word convert…Christ in the beginning of His mission didn’t ask for conversion. He came to correct the Jews style of life…To extend their spiritual relationship with God beyond the Laws …They were dreaming of political leader, not a spiritual one

          • You found the anachronism: I used “convert” because Jesus did, in the KJV that is (Mat.13:15,18:3, Mar.4:12, Luk.22:32, Joh.12:40, Act.3:19,15:3,28:27), and the word stuck, up until today, even though the definition of this word has significantly shifted (from “those who repent”, to “those who change religion”).

  8. It is not correct to speak of Paul’s conversion, in the same way it is not really correct to speak of John and Charles Wesleys’ conversion. They didn’t really change what they believed, rahter they entered into a relationship with a saviour they didn’t truly know before. I don’t doubt for a minute they uderstood some things differently afterwards, and so it was with Paul. I think it would be more approapriate to say they’d been ‘born again’ to quote the words of Jesus.

  9. I appreciate your distinction that Paul was an apocalyptic Jew, but differ in your view of inspiration: Saul/Paul “mistakenly thought that Christ Jesus would return in his own lifetime.” That is very similar to saying that Moses was mistaken in saying that God would take Moses and the Passover generation to the Promised Land. There was no mistake. There was a turning back from God’s promises that truly were at hand. That is what Hebrews warned about, and what apparently happened. Paul was right, but the promises were left unclaimed by an enduring faith of the 1st Hebrew-Christian generation.

  10. Dr Eli, thank you for many of your articles; very informative they are! I assume you purpose to hold & provide the doctrine in a higher standard of knowledge in accuracy & completion (clarity). (1) why don’t you call “our Lord” (as King David) the Messiah (they won’t come kill you, will they)? (2) Why don’t you call the Jews/Hebrews who have come to believe & receive our Lord Messianic Jews (no conversation but more complete in salvation if I may)? (3) Why don’t you call the people “Israelis” instead of the old “Israelites”? Shalom!

    • Thanks for commenting CB. 1) Actually, I did call Yeshua the Messiah in this and other articles, 2) “Messianic Jews” here in Israel means basically “Christian” and not someone who maintains their Jewish, Torah-based identity like it means abroad, and 3) Israelis are citizens of Israel that can be religious, secular, or even Arab, but “Israelites” refers to the Biblical context of the people of God, by birth and those grafted in.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Stories of Jewish Christ: First Century Diversity or The Revelation in a Jewish Context II : Discovery. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

      • Thank you Dr Eli for your explanation. I should remember to keep what’s of God separated. But, I have always known myself as ingrafted & spiritually Abraham’s descendant as clearly described in the Bible, an Israelites? Why? a/few verses? Shalom!

          • Thanks Dr Eli, God love you & the natural branches; I see also the faithful children of faithful Christians; you are all so wonderful & beautiful much like our Lord. We… have much to be worked on by our Lord after salvation. I think Jews in US are all for Jesus I point it out in their Tanakah speaking from my little outreach experience. I do pray for the them to be reconciled to God through Christ. Thanks, I’m more confident now. Much praises to our God, the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit! Amen.

  11. very interesting and informative article, but I wonder why you don’t mention that Luke stops using the name “SAUL” and starts calling him PAUL when he starts on his missionary journeys, as if he hasn’t changed his name , it’s just that in Greek speaking areas he’s known as Paul

  12. Both! Hebrew Saul was called first (by our Jew Christ) a chosen vessel for salvation of the Gentiles; (apostle Paul is very important personally). He did not go on with the calling right away & when he did, he was like a Catholic priest, struggled being a servant of God yet not saved by grace. But he was saved later (“My Grace is..” & “kingdom has come upon you if you’re freed/healed..”) I am always grateful to the Almighty because I got to read it after I received; I was puzzled long before I got it. Thanks be to God.

  13. Excellent article! The opposite of seeing God’s hands in everything is converting to something different because He wasn’t there.

  14. As ever, another eye-opening and insightful article. I just have one query/comment. You mentioned that Christianity and Judaism were not separated or even existed per se at the time of Paul. In the book of Acts, Luke writes that the followers of the way became known as Christians in Antioch.

    • The Jewish sect called “the Way” composed of Jews and Gentiles that followed the teachings of their Messiah Yeshua (or Yesous Kristos in Greek) were first called “Christians” in Antioch. They were not Christians in our modern understanding. That was the nickname given to its adherents.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including Exodus and The New Testament and The Revelation in a Jewish Context II : Discovery. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  15. Would this indicate that there was indeed a divide or separation between the Jews and Christians? Did Paul write his letters before or after Acts was written? If after, surely he would have known about the phrase Christians? I’d appreciate any input 🙂

    • Acts chronicles the writing of several of Paul’s epistles. They predate Acts. Acts was completed near the end of Paul’s life as a history of the new Sect.

  16. Apostle Paul was “both” called and converted. The two are mutually inclusive! To be “called” (appointed), Saul had to be “firstly” converted by receiving God’s Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). God changed his name from Saul (big) to Paul (little) to reflect his new humble attitude to God.

  17. 1. Paul contradicts the teaching of the Christian’s Jesus on several subjects for which he should receive NO glory or praise. He also has seriously contradicted himself in many instances i.e. his view of the Law. – “But now we are released from the Law.

    • It’s very easy to spot alleged contradictions in Paul (or in the scriptures) if that’s what you’re looking for (2Pet.3:16). The more noble search is discovering what he actually meant (as illuminated by the original context and culture) in a text that you once thought was a contradiction. Paul lived and died a Pharisee, adhering strictly to the Torah, and even to the Jewish traditions (Act.23:6). With that as your foundation, you stand to discover a Saul/Paul you never knew before.

      • How many books did Paul actually write, if that was in fact his real name? How many unknown writers assisted “Paul”? After all he did not know the Christian’s Jesus and neither was He an eye witness of any event or teaching.
        Is Paul Given Too Much Credit? [link omitted]

        • First Thessalonians is one epistle that explicitly lists Paul as the author, and in it he prescribes, “Test all things, hold fast the good” (1Th.5:21). I suggest you take his advice. Questioning the authorship of several epistles or Paul’s “actual” name is a red-herring. If the earliest records show that the Body accepted them as inspired, then it is your burden of proof to show that they were all wrong, more than posting links to a blog.

  18. 2. We serve not under the old written code but under the new life of the Spirit” (Romans7:6). Compare this with – “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law!” (Romans 3:31).

    • For starters, your translation isn’t doing you any favors (RSV?). But anyway, serving God in the Spirit (instead of from rote automation of the letter) is not a contradiction to upholding the law. Paul prescribes upholding the law, of course, but your heart should be in it; if your heart is infatuated with idolatry, lust and sin when you do what God commands, it not only doesn’t count for unrighteousness…it’s an abomination (Isa.1:2-17). In Rom.7:6, Paul prescribes the way to uphold the law.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with Exodus and The New Testament or Leviticus and The New Testament. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  19. 3. Which way is it? Paul, Jesus or YAHWEH?
    This is a rebellious people, lying children, that will not hear the Law of Yahweh. Isaiah 30:9.

    • Paul, Jesus or YHWH? All of them teach us truth and righteousness. Although Israel was imperfect (Isaiah 30:9) just like as any other nation, she is still the nation that God chose to be His servant, and He will have compassion on her. Please read the end of the chapter that you cited: (Isaiah 30:18-24)

        • “Truth only comes from Yahweh…proclaimed by Yahweh in person.” Johann, was this conjecture personally proclaimed to you by God? Do you see the contradiction now? Of course truth _ultimately_ comes from YHWH, but truth is not exclusively found only in God. If I say the sky is blue, this is a truth that God did not personally proclaim to me, but it is still truth. Even false religions contain some truths (mixed with error albeit).

          • The sky is ‘blue’ and that is a fact revealed by sight. What is not sighted however is to be evaluated as truth or lie. Christians are taught and fuelled by fear that “faith” is to believe the unseen, unconditionally. The end result is heresy, deceit and dogma.

          • Yahweh warns against prophets (teachers, preachers, theologians and modern day prophets): – Jeremiah 23:16 : …. “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the “MOUTH” of YAHWEH..

          • Actually, YHWH warns both against despising His true prophets and against the words of false prophets. So how do you tell the difference between the two except by stacking up the prophet’s words next to Torah?

          • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including Exodus and The New Testament and The Jewish Apostle Paul I: His World. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

    • Left the “Old Law”, really? (Acts 25:8) But what exactly is the difference between the “Old Law” and the “New Law” except where it is written? (Jer.31:31-33, Ezek. 36:26-27)

  20. We do not convert to a religion. We repent towards God and believe His Messiah. Judaism is not biblical, neither is Christianity. They are man made labels. ‘Christian’ was a nickname.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with Jewish Insights Into Scriptures I or The Jewish Apostle Paul I: His World. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  21. You are very kind to both Jew and gentile . , I’ve read that much of the separation of Christianity from Jewishness was because of Roman persecution therefore they disassociated for self preservation among other things ,also when Jews were expelled from Jerusalem , gentiles took over the Jerusalem council

  22. I was born and raised a Roman Catholic. I knew “about” Jesus Christ and what He did for me, but…… I was standing at a bus stop one day in January, 1980 reading a “Gospel Tract” when I suddenly realized that I was not a follower of Christ. Not Born-Again.

  23. I was at that moment born-again, and my eyes opened to the Word of God. Been on this journey for almost 40 years, and what a journey it has been. I read your emails daily and enjoy them much. Blessings to you and grace and peace.

  24. My, my, some of you seem to have it in for that rascal Paul. No, he was not mistaken about the imminent return of Jesus. Does not Peter say One day with the Lord is like a thousand years. In light of that only Two plus days have lapsed

  25. I prefer “worship” to “religion.” History (biblical and secular) teaches us that the longer worship continues, the more corrupt it becomes. At times, God enters into history to “reset” worship. From the Garden to Sinai to the Cross, God is reestablishing right worship, not abandoning it.

  26. Shalom Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg i believe whoever GOD calls turns him or herself from darkness to light.so Paul was called,he accepted and converted to the light .Matthew 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.Luke 9:23 let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

  27. Rav (“rabbi’) is a technical, professional term, not a generic usage, and therefore should not be bandied about loosely, as in the phrase RAV SHAUL. Analogy: the late Bernard Lewis was a great scholar of Islam. Would you call him- a Zionist Jew- Imam Lewis?

  28. This essay’s use of RAV/rabbi is anachronistic & therefore sloppy. RAV/rabbi is a post-70 official, technical term. Hence, in the Talmud, Hillel is always called the Hillel the Elder (zaqayn), NEVER “Rabbi Hillel.” Similarly, Jesus and Saul/Paul, since both passed from the scene prior to the destruction of the Temple.

    • Prior to rabbinic Judaism, Rabbi meant simply “great one” in the sense of “teacher”. It became an official title later.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with Leviticus and The New Testament or The Jewish Apostle Paul I: His World. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  29. Paul to Saul. Changed “small”, which is more “small life” to “speaking life” by changing the first letter to “Phey”. Phey means mouth. This only makes sense in Hebrew so it was a Hebrew inspired change. If we speak of Testaments we should speak of first testament and second testament.

  30. In case it wasn’t obvious, therefore Paul still saw himself as Jewish and not as “Christian” and saw his name change as essential to explain his new role, primarily to a Jewish audience. While he was Saul he did lead a small, misguided life as did the original Saul.

  31. “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus…” 2nd Tim 4 I see this as his rabbinical garb he brought with him, maybe the same he wore on the road to Damascus.
    it would explain why he was asked to speak at the synagogues he went to on the sabbath. it seems to me to be interesting to contemplate how the cloths he wore when he dictated or composed by his own hand the epistles to various audiences. For example Hebrews done within a complete Jewish mind set and the proper attire. Called , changed, and translated

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