I was reading through 1 Maccabees the other day when I read 1.10-15 and it helped me better understand why the Apostle Paul would have received so much rebuff for saying things like “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. ” (Gal. 5.6) or “Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. ” (Rom. 2.25-27)
In the aforementioned passage from 1 Maccabees it tells the story of Israel under the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes and how some from within Israel compromised by living like the pagans. It reads:
“There sprang from these a sinful offshoot, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus, once a hostage at Rome. He became king in the year one hundred and thirty-seven of the kingdom of the Greeks. n those days there appeared in Israel men who were breakers of the law, and they seduced many people, saying: “Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.” The proposal was agreeable; some from among the people promptly went to the king, and he authorized them to introduce the way of living of the Gentiles. Thereupon they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the Gentile custom. hey covered over the mark of their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant; they allied themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to wrongdoing.”
I can only imagine a Jew familiar with the story of the Maccabees as hearing nothing but compromise from Paul. He must have sounded like these men who lost their Jewish identity to be more like the pagans.
Yup. Keep reading, it gets worse…
@Daniel: 2.7-13 is even worse! On Monday I have a post saying a little bit about that passage, but wow (!), one can see why Paul’s gospel was so offensive. Is it wrong for me to say that I don’t blame the Jews of his day for rejecting him?!
@Brian: Not wrong at all. These are bits of information vital in understanding the context of Paul’s statements. I think there is much value in the books that are ignored in Protestant Bibles…this of course is one of them!
@Ryan: Agreed, if Luther, et al., had taken the historical context into consideration they wouldn’t have been able to push the doctrine of justification by faith as far as they did. I’d say the same for many modern Protestants.
Of course, Protestants often respond with an intercanonical reading based on our canon. That being said, even Hab. 2.4 does provide support for many Protestant readings of Rom. & Gal.
Can you elaborate on your comment to Ryan on Luther? I don’t gather what you’re getting at with noting the historical context and how that would’ve effected sola fide.
I believe we need to study the historical setting on a deeper level to be able to truly understand both the OT and NT.
This includes the other semi / non canonical books, Mid-rash stories and other ancient texts. Well done Obi One!
@Bobby: Luther would not have been able to frame Judaism as a religion of “works” similar to the Roman Catholicism of his time. This would have prevented, in part, his disparaging remarks regarding Jews in general. Also, it would prevent statements like “sin boldly” if feeling guilt.
Paul’s main concern was not good deeds, but particular “works of the Law” that in his context functioned to distinguish Jew from Gentile.
In a round about way Luther was correct, but I think he swang the pendulum much too far and in doing so misapplied Paul.
@Craig: Agreed, but who is Obi One?
@Brian. Obi One… ahaaa my bad! It should have been Obi Wan… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obi-Wan_Kenobi
@Craig: I figured. I’m not a big Star Wars fan, but I know they will find the misspelling highly offensive, so I thought I’d give you a chance to correct it! 🙂
I didn’t know it was spelt “Wan” Ah – Well! It’s another example of upsetting the purists 😉
If you find anybody that looks like this following you around, run! http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Ewok
On another note about the value of circumcision. Roman’s 13 is where Paul starts to knit the Jew’s / Gentiles into one cohesive group.
I believe he is addressing the Jew’s about obeying and honouring the Gentile government and is addressing the Gentiles about the Jewish Law being an outworking of loving your neighbour as your self. And within this context brings them together and tells them how to live in love with one another.
This whole concept broke the social / cultural bounds of both the Jews and the Gentiles.
My only nuance on Rom. 13 is that I wouldn’t limit it to the Jews. Paul has spent much of this epistle showing that all were in Adam so that all could be in Christ. Those who are in Christ are both Jews and Gentiles. They have the promise of reigning with Christ (1.1-7; 8.1-25) in the age to come. If this is their identity and destiny, what do we do with Rome?
Well, Rome still has the sword in this age so Christians, Jew and Gentile alike, obey.
Oh, I see; the NT Wright reification of Paul. It should be noted that Luther made disparaging remarks about the Jews at the end of his career when he made disparaging remarks about lots of things and lots of people (not that that makes it okay, but some think that his physical decline had an impact on his mental decline); the beginning and mid stages of Luther’s career he wrote favorable things about the Jews when it was not en vogue for Christians to do so. Further, the “sin boldly” statement has been contested per its attribution to Luther. I don’t have all of the research to hand on this, but I’ve read it from reliable “critical” sources.
I get what you’re getting at now though (you could’ve just said “Wright” and that would’ve made it clear to me 😉 ).
I think that throughout the book of Roman’s, Paul uses two distinct types of language when speaking to the Jew’s and the Gentiles.
The nuances are lost when we don’t recognise when he is addressing the Gentiles and when he is addressing the Jew’s and why and how he is doing this; which of course is to show that all are in Adam and therefore Christ.
I would also say that Paul repeats himself a lot and that he basically uses the same arguments and points in most of his letters.
In context one can forgive Luther:
“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”
If we see it as being something like what the author of Hebrews said when he told us to approach the throne boldly.
Maybe Luther’s anti-semitism was due to declining mental health. I haven’t read much on him, but those I have read suggest it could have also been connected to his inability to convert many Jews.
All in all the basic point stands though (and I think I echoed Dunn more than Wright) that I don’t think things like circumcision would have been viewed like penance during the time of the Reformation. It seems apparent that it had a lot more to do with Jewish identity.
Also, as for source, I found it attributed to this book twice:
Letter 99, Paragraph 13. Erika Bullmann Flores, Tr. from:Dr. Martin Luther’s Saemmtliche SchriftenDr. Johann Georg Walch Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15, cols. 2585-2590.
But I don’t have a hard copy anywhere nearby to verify.
@Craig: I don’t deny that Paul does, at times, aim more specifically at Jews, and other times at Gentiles (esp. 2-3), but in 12-13 it seems like there is a unified address happening.
I fully agree with you. I wrote here http://craigbenno1.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/chapter-and-verses/ how I believe that Romans 12:1 – 15:21 should be one chapter.
I preached on Romans 13 a couple of weeks ago (I would have liked to have started with 12) and preached on how Paul was triumphantly concluding his letter with an inclusive message of grace.
Yeah, hopefully somebody will be able to forgive us one day too 😉 .
I really liked Heiko Oberman’s biography on Luther: Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, he covered all of the proclivities of Luther.
Okay, well you could’ve just said the “NPP[s]” and I would’ve understood what you meant 😉 .
@Craig: Yes, 12.1-15.33 is a single block of thought. It addresses in further detail what chapters six and seven imply.
@Bobby: Unlike Luther I doubt anyone will read anything I wrote several centuries later, so I should be just fine there. 🙂
I try to avoid tossing something under “NPP” because it seems to be a by-word for writing off things said about Paul that don’t match traditional Protestant lingo. I think the main contribution of the “NPP”, if we must use that term, is that it simply helps push the pendulum back a bit toward the middle after Protestantism and Catholicism forced broad polarities.
Brian, if you are reading intertestamental literature looking for some background on this might I suggest Jubilees. It seems to me that book, which was authoritative and normative for some Second Temple groups, would have created an ideological/halachic thought world in which Paul’s suggesting non-circumcision for Gentiles would have been much more scandalous.
agathos: Great recommendation! I will make sure to read it ASAP.
… There is a movement of Jews who are questioning circumcision, and working to end this abuse of children. The movement ranges from the Orthodox to the secular, and includes mothers, fathers, scholars, historians, medical professionals, activists, and intellectuals.
Jewish Groups for Genital Integrity
* Jews Against Circumcision http://www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org/
* Brit Shalom Celebrants by Mark D. Reiss, M.D. http://www.circumstitions.com/Jewish-shalom.html
* Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Ron Goldman, Ph.D. http://www.jewishcircumcision.org
* The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 1
The Kindest Un-Cut Feminism, Judaism, and My Son’s Foreskin by Professor Michael S. Kimmel
Jewish Intactivist Miriam Pollack has some great commentary on Foreskin Man in this recent interview.
Jews Speak Out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors
……… Many sites explain the problems of circumcision, and why it should be bypassed.
The History of Circumcision
Doctors Opposing Circumcision
Students for Genital Integrity
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