When John Polhill calls Paul a “citizen of two cities” he is referring to Tarsus and Jerusalem (Paul and His Letters, 5). He has in mind Acts 21:39 where Paul claims both Greco-Roman and Jewish heritage. In the first chapter of N. T. Wright’s Paul: A Fresh Perspective Paul is described as living in three worlds, Greek, Roman and Jewish. As a Roman citizen Paul was certainly part of the Greco-Roman world, but he was also educated in Jerusalem and “zealous for the Law.” These two worlds seem incompatible, part of the “secular” world of Rome and yet also a conservative, traditional Jew.
Paul is a representative of Diaspora Judaism. Diaspora is a term applied to Jews who were living outside of Palestine, they were dispersed throughout the world, Babylon and Egypt from the captivity, but nearly every major city had a colony of Jews living in it. Because they lived far from Jerusalem, the temple as no longer the center of their religion, the synagogue was. It was in the synagogue that the studied the Torah and worshiped on the Sabbath. The synagogue was the educational center for young Jews and a social support system for the Jewish community in a town.
Jews living in the Second Temple Period struggled with just how far they should go in assimilating into Greek culture. This process of Hellinization varied from community to community, perhaps even family to family. There is a difference between speaking Greek in order to do business with Gentiles and eating with them, ignoring food traditions.
All Jews were in some ways Hellenized, even those living in Jerusalem. John Barclay studied Jewish documents from Diaspora communities developed three ares of Hellinization found in the Diaspora:
- Assimilation. How successfully has a Jew become integrated into the dominant culture? On the low end, someone who stays within a Jewish neighborhood and has no contact with gentiles, in the middle, someone who has daily business contact with gentiles but maintains the “boundary markers”, at the high end Jews who have abandon those markers. There are relatively few Jews at the high end, although some reversed circumcision or became a part of a pagan cult.
- Acculturation. To what degree does a Jew internalize the dominant culture? At the low end, a Jew might have no knowledge of Greek, while in the middle of the scale there is a use of Greek and basic familiarity with Greco-Roman ethics and culture. At the high end, a Jew who understands and uses the literature and rhetoric of the Greco-Roman world and has a mastery of the Greek language.
- Accommodation. This measures the extent to which a Jew puts to use their acculturation. At the low end, a Jew might reject Gentile culture entirely, while in the middle of the scale, a Jew might use the culture to express their own tradition, still maintaining the core values of Judaism. At the high end, the Greco-Roman culture asserts itself over the Jewish way of life.
The issues raised here resonate throughout Paul’s letters. The earliest Gentile believers who were completely Greco-Roman struggled to integrate their new status of “in Christ” into their ethical and moral decisions. On the other extreme, Jewish converts struggle with Paul’s broadly Hellenized Gospel which did not require the Law for Gentile converts.
Since Paul claimed to be both a Roman citizen and a Jewish Pharisee in Acts 21, where does he fit into this scale? How “Hellenized” was his gospel? Or did he remain in some ways faithful to Jerusalem?
Bibliography: John Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora from Alexander to Trajan. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996; John Polhill, Paul and His Letters. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999.
32 thoughts on “Paul: A Citizen of Two Cities”
Paul used his Tarsian, Roman, and Jewish heritages to his advantage as a minister of the gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 clearly states Paul’s purpose in identifying with slaves, jews, those under the law, and the weak. He did what any good missionary would do… meet people where they are at (their culture, perspective, dress, and ideals). As far as Paul’s Hellenization, I believe “Paul owed little to Rome for his message; he owed much to Rome for his mission” (Polhill 22). His message was adapted when speaking to different groups (Jews vs. Romans) because Paul believed the gospel would enhance a persons culture (pulling on its strengths and challenging its weaknesses). Paul recognized that the gospel was bigger than labels like Jew or Gentile and therefore he sought to be all things to all men for God’s glory. Higher than his faithfulness to the Roman law, his hometown, or Jerusalem was his alliance to Christ (this is something he never compromised).
As Anna pointed out, 1 Cor. 9:23 gives us the foundation as to why Paul was using the culture and time to his advantage in furthering the gospel of Christ. Judging from Paul’s behavior and writings, it would appear that Paul didn’t hold much stock in the legalistic world that his Jewish upbringing would have demanded. In fact, Paul seems to dismiss the law when dealing with Gentiles but reincorporates it when dealing with Jews showing how Paul uses even the Law as a non-essential in regards to the Gospel. In no way am I saying that Paul disregarded the Law completely. What I am saying is that Paul’s belief that we are no longer under the law (Gal. 3:23 among other places) would have been a dynamic and significant shift away from conservative Judaism and is what drove Paul to behave as he did.
Paul’s usage and application of the philosophy of his time also showed a willingness to adopt the popular thought at the time and use it as a spring board into the Gospel. Pohill goes into great detail on pages 13 and 14 to describe ways in which Paul used the literary art of his time to promote Christ centered beliefs and actions in the Gentile believing populace.
Therefore, my assessment of Paul’s stance on the three areas are thus:
Assimilation: Mid to High
A caveat here would be that Paul showed great talent at moving between Low and High on all accounts when dealing with different people groups. This assessment is my opinion on where Paul would have fallen when not dealing with different people groups.
So, I feel like 1 Corinthians 9 is going to be used in many a post on this subject so I am glad I am one of the first to write about it. Paul is such a cool guy because he continually surprises me. I always new about 1 Corinthians 9:22b, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some”, but to be straight, it never really hit me that Paul did this. That verse plays a MAJOR part in my personal ministry with students. I have spent a lot of my life getting good at multiple things and avoiding become “excellent” at any certain thing so that I am able to reach multiple types of teens.
In today’s world there are 20,000 different denominations of the Christian faith. ( Intro to youth min Mark Carroll) All of these denominations believe something, no matter how small, different from each other. If one were to reach all of them, he/she would have to sacrifice a few of the less “important” traditions. Paul does this same thing. Lets look at Jewish tradition and early Gentile Christians as two separate “denominations” (for lack of a better vocabulary). Paul wants to reach the Jewish community so he follows the law with them, but with the gentile community he rolls with what they roll with.
So I would say that Paul was very Hellenistic throughout his gospels.
Assimilation – mid to high
Acculteration – high
Accomodation – mid
Ha, me and Jason are the same. Does this mean I’m turning Japanese?
God’s timing and perfect plan for the ministry of His servants are overwhelming in the life of Paul. Paul’s birth into Roman Citizenship (8), his upbringing in Greek culture in Tarsus (5), and his orthodox Jewish family structure (9), would all prove crucial to the mission calling that God had prepared in advance for him.
It was interesting to read how Paul integrated the positive elements of an otherwise pagan Greek Hellenistic culture into the advancement of the message of salvation to the gentiles. For example, Paul borrowed Stoic methods of argument to structure his writings (14) and in a few instances quoted philosophers and poets (10) in order to more effectively appeal to his audience. The ability Paul had to educate himself on the culture of the day and integrate that in his teachings and writings without compromising the gospel message made him very effective in this.
The call Christians have today to be in the world but not of the world is difficult and it gives us a greater appreciation of what life was like for the apostle Paul. He found a way to be in the Hellenistic Greek culture of the day without becoming a product of it. Although he was a “Citizen of Two Cities” he was ironically rejected by both. Through this, however, God’s providence allowed Paul’s status, education, and training to work together for His glory.
Paul did indeed shift and shape himself to match his audience. It’s just like I learned in speech class last semester – you have to relate your message to your audience. If you’re talking Greek metaphors and philosophy to orthodox Jews, they’re not going to take you seriously. By the same merit, if you’re talking law and observances to the Hellenistic culture, you’re not going to come across the right way. I find it interesting that someone like Paul, who belonged to so many different groups of people – Roman, Jewish, Tarsian – was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles, ministering to the Body of Christ. He himself is a metaphor of the diversity that is in Christ’s Body. As Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
I also found it interesting that Paul got some of his argumentation style and ideas from the Stoics and Cynics. It’s quite hard to miss Paul with his rhetorical questions in diatribe style such as in Romans 7:13, “Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin…” As Polhill says, “The Stoic would advance his argument by responding to these ‘straw’ questions” (pg. 14). Paul became masterful at this art.
Paul was a citizen of Tarsus (Paul and His Letters 8, Acts 21:39) but also born a citizen of Rome (Acts 22:27-28). “These two worlds seem incompatible, part of the “secular” world of Rome and yet also a conservative, traditional Jew” (Phil Long). I believe that many, if not all of us, can relate to Paul in some aspect when we look at his life in the means of citizenship. Being humans we were born and raised on Earth—a world consumed with altered beliefs and sin. Being Christians we already know that our citizenship is in Heaven (Philip. 3:20). We, just like Paul, are living in two ‘worlds’ that seem rather incompatible with each other. Paul does a great job of taking his background as a citizen of Tarsus, a citizen of Rome, and being a Jew and using it to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. I really like how Ana pointed out that Paul would do what any good missionary would do—and what we as Christians are told to do as well—meet the people where they are at. As Christians we can’t just have one specific way of sharing the message. We need to adapt to the person, place, and situation we are in in order to fully bring the point of who Jesus Christ was and what He did for us on the cross. I think Paul did a great job in incorporating who he was into what he did. He was aware of how Jewish he was, what a Roman and a Tarsus citizen meant, and he gathered that all together to go out and preach to all peoples. For me, it is a bit hard to securely identify where Paul is in Assimilation, Acculturation and Accommodation because he is so good at interchanging how he lives, acts, and preaches with all groups of people. Ultimately I would have to agree with Jason and Supersizedgod by putting saying
Assimilation: mid to high
with Paul being able to creatively and fluently flow from low to high in any given circumstance.
It seems to me that Paul remained almost completely faithful to Jerusalem. That is to say that in all of his ministry to the Gentiles, we consistently see him working and interacting – though not always favorably – with the Church in Jerusalem. (Galatians 2:9-16). But even his less than congenial interactions show loyalty rather than rebellion to that body. If he did not see himself as a part of that body, why go to such lengths to preserve it and see its leaders act justly.
However, he quite clearly does not hold to a strong Jewish form of Christianity, as this passage also makes clear. While this breech of Jewish law may have conceivably been a result of his somewhat hellenistic influences in his upbringing, I personally feel it is more largely a result of an act of God in his heart. He claims that no one had more zeal than he did when he was a Pharisee, and indeed, if Acts 8 is any indication, he found the law to be of supreme import. So any tendency toward hellenization must have been either an act of God moving his heart away from the reliance on the Law, or a spiritual sensitivity for the spiritual needs of his Gentile audience.
On a separate note, I found it curious that Polhill several times refers to Paul as having been born into his citizenship, but simultaneously mentions Paul having paid a great price to secure his citizenship. He cites Paul himself in Acts when he is deflecting another scourging with his citizenship and mentions that he paid a great price for his citizenship. Polhill seems to think this refers to a bribe that allowed him to procure his citizenship, but if he was born with his citizenship, then what is there to pay for?
Paul’s story is one of the greatest testimonies for Christ, how he speaks of his conversion in Acts 22 is incredible. He was speaking in Aramaic, and trying to calm a mob (which is always a hard thing especially when trying to stand up for Christ where there is much persecution going on) while being man from two cities as P.Long mentioned above about Polhill 5.
Thinking about how people now; are descendants from many different places forms of religions and people groups across the globe, and how normal that is for us now, then thinking back to the century Paul grew up in, and the times and how people were oppressed for being of a certain faith or people group, Paul was persecuted many a time for his faith and his heritage. Although that did not stop him, in fact it was a benefit in which he used for his journey preaching and teaching the gospel. He was a Roman citizen, a Jew and he preached to the Galilean’s along with all the other people he came across along the way, he was a man of many backgrounds, and a “Man of two Cities”.
Paul’s gospel undoubtedly had a good amount of Hellenistic characteristics to it. However, I believe there was very good reason for this. Polhill said, “Every city where Paul ministered was influenced by the Hellenistic culture and spirit, even Jerusalem” (7). For Paul’s ministry to the gentiles to be effective it made sense to have a gospel that could better relate to his audience. We see this in the life of Jesus. When He told stories and parables he used everyday objects to demonstrate the point he was trying to get across.
If we look at the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8, we can see a great example of this. Starting in verse 5 He says, “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on and the birds of the air ate it up.” Just in that one verse you can see how Jesus is going to tell a story through an event in a farmer’s everyday life. Since Jesus was talking to “a large crowd”, he probably assumed that many were farmers and knew that they would better understand what he was trying to say if he used agricultural terms. Paul does the same as seen in Philippians 3. Instead of using farming imagery, Paul relates more to training for the Hellenistic audience. Polhill says, “The Pastoral Epistles frequently employ athletic images such as physical training (1 Tim. 4:8), competing by the rules (2 Tim. 2:5), fighting the good fight (1 Tim. 6:12), and winning the race (2 Tim. 4:7). Ryan’s point of Paul’s argumentation style offers more evidence of a more Hellenized gospel. After reading Chapter 1 I would have to rate Paul’s Gospel mid to high on all three categories.
Although the gospel did become less “Jewish”, I believe that is how God intended it to be. Paul obviously made a huge impact in spreading the good news to people around the world. As it seems more and more people today are leaving the faith it makes me wonder if we revolutionize the way we do things. We can’t change the gospel but is there any way we can change our perspective on things to better relate to our society?
First to answer your question Caleb, Polhill never made a statement saying Paul secured his citizenship by paying a great price, rather what Polhill does say is this, “When the tribune Lysias told Paul that he had obtained his citizen’s right by paying a large sum of money (Acts 22:28), he was probably referring to the bribes he had to pay the ‘right people’ to obtain the coveted status,” (Polhill 16) Therefore what Polhill is saying is that the tribune Lysias had obtained his citizenship through a bribe, not Paul, and he was using this as a point to illustrate that citizenships could be bought with a bribe. For further clarification if you read the ESV Bible verse Acts 22:27-28 it says this, “So the tribune came and said to him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ The tribune answered, ‘I bought this citizenship for a large sum.’ Paul said, ‘But I am a citizen by birth.’”
I say this because Paul directly says the “boundaries” between Jew and Gentile are broken, as seen in Galatians 3:28. Therefore by his own words Paul claims the assimilation of Jews and Gentiles.
Paul shows a mastery of the Greek language in his well written letters and his fluency in talking with many Gentiles. Also he shows a strong understanding of Greco-Roman rhetoric and literature as seen in various occasions in which Paul quotes Gentile poems and plays. Such was the case when Paul spoke at the Aeropagus in Acts 17, he quoted the poem Cretica in verse 28. He used times like this to relate to the crowd.
Paul uses the culture of the Greco-Roman world to express his message to the masses. Paul used quotes and references to other Greco-Roman material to emphasize his message. However, he does this without compromising and losing his Jewish foundation. He never lets Greco-Roman culture over-ride his message or his way of life. Rather, he uses it to enhance his message and relate it to different crowds, as he says in 1 Corinthians 9:22.
The gospel Paul presented was Hellenized differently depending on the audience. For Jewish audiences Paul often spoke of the Law and the Prophets but to Gentile audiences Paul used more Hellenistic ideas, such as quotes from poets and playwrights, to describe and convey his gospel in a way in which would resonate with the audience. Therefore, Paul’s gospel was both Hellenized and faithful to Jerusalem.
Taking this back to the New Perspective, Paul was first off a Jew. Even though his writings are often to mixed congregations of gentiles and jewish converts, his Jewish roots and education comes out more often then not. Let us note Galatians, Romans, Corinthians, and Philippians. Even in his other letters that aren’t considered by some scholars to be authentically Paul there is an undeniable Jewishness about most of them. You can argue that he makes efforts (successfully) at communicating to both sides, but most of his main themes that deal with exegesis of the Torah and Jewish literature would have meant little to a gentile audience. Romans would have known very little if anything about the Septuagint. It is unlikely, therefore, that Paul, in communicating to Gentiles, would have put on a “different” face as it will, but instead helped Gentiles understand his point, not by putting away his “jewishness” but rather, by further explaining his point or reiterating his point.
I am not saying that he was in no way Hellenized but, perhaps, pointing a heavier emphasis on the fact that he thought and reasoned as a Jew.
Paul’s character seems to be generally moderate on the scale Barclay developed on Hellenization. From what I know of Paul, he seemed to be able to maintain proper boundaries (for a Jew) when in contact with Gentiles, and while having a “mastery of the Greek language” he was able to use what he knew of the culture to further his passion for spreading the Truth of God to them. In short: moderate Assimilation, high Acculturation, and moderate Accommodation. (Hey look, I agree with Jason too!)
Pohill talks about Paul’s Hellenistic education while he was a young boy in Tarsus, saying that it was here where he absorbed the lingual methods of the Greek culture. Pohill also mentions that there are only three occasions where Paul quotes Greek writers (pg 10) in Acts 17:28, 1 Cor. 15:33, and Titus 1:12. I seem to remember, however, last year when I took BI 202 (NT Lit.), that Phil Long was saying that Paul also references a Greek play in which they say “All things are lawful…” Paul takes this statement (which had become a “slogan” of sorts to the church in Corinth) and continues with: ” ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything/not all things build up” (1 Cor. 6:12, 10:23). Please forgive me if I am remembering incorrectly… but I do think it’s interesting how Paul’s upbringing in multiple cultures allows him so much flexibility in his ministries.
I also agree with Jason and supersizedgod. The passage 1 Cor 9:23 is a great foundation for Paul’s attitude towards evangelism. He uses his knowledge of Greek and Roman culture to reach out Gentiles of all walks of life, as well as keeping true to his Jewish roots.
As most have, I also agree with Jason. Paul was mid to high Assimilation, high Acculturation, and moderate Accommodation. I think that it is important to note when thinking of how Paul does with these measures, that we must take into account what he writes. Polhill points out on page 10 that Paul only quotes Greek writers three times, and it is only generally one line or two at a time. However, when it comes to the Septuagint, “He quoted from it, he alluded to it, his choice of words reflected that he was thoroughly steeped in it. His primer was not the Greek writers, but the Greek Bible. (Polhill, p. 10)” His allegiance is to the people that need to hear the gospel, not necessarily those who are on the same level as he is. He would have been tempted to stay right at home then. But no, he traveled immensely, as the merchants that he watched growing up as a boy did. It was watching these men come and go that he realized the need for travel, and the need to spread a message (Polhill). In Romans 1:14-15, Paul writes, “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.” It is this excitement to touch more people, that Paul uses all three of his citizenships, but always keeps to his citizenship as a part of the body of Christ.
While reading this chapter, and hearing where Paul comes from completely just reassures to me how great of a missionary Paul was. Paul himself is Jew, he came from Tarsus, and was also a Roman citizen. (Polhill 5) Paul is a man who was MADE for preaching the word of the Lord. He spent time in Jerusalem studying under Gamaliel, who was a leading teacher of the Law. Not only does Paul know the Law, but he can also affiliate himself with the Jews. He is a man of Roman citizenship, and can speak fluent Greek which not only surprised the soldiers, but also made them stop beating him. (Acts 22:28)
What is so amazing to me, is how God equipped Paul with all of these blessings, so that Paul could carry on his ministry. He could reach out to thee Jews, to the Gentiles, to the Greeks, and be safe from the Roman Military. (to an extent) Even when things get tough for Paul, he is still able to do what God had made him to do, to preach his message to the lost.
While reading Pohill’s book I started to get confused. I didn’t, at first, understand why Pohill had so many pages that dealt with Paul’s background, especially his educational background. I kind of figured that everyone in that day and culture had the same education and there wasn’t much more to know about that. But Pohill talks about the possible different educational backgrounds that Paul had while growing up in a Hellenistic city (Tarsus).
And while thinking about Paul’s education and learning about his upbringing I started to wonder how this all played out in Paul’s ministry. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but it seems that Paul’s calling and ministry were greatly influenced by his upbringing. Or should I say, God had a beautiful plan for Paul’s life, even when he was a young man. God obviously knew that He was going to use Paul to bring the Gospel message to the gentiles and thus had him (Paul) raised up in a diverse city. If Paul wasn’t a Citizen of Two Cities would he have been able to even relate to the gentile people? Could he become all things to all men? “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:22-23)
As I stated in my “Hebrew of Hebrews” post, I think Paul really does stick to Jewish learning. Since he is from Tarsus but also a Roman citizen, he does seem to be pretty well assimilated, fairly well acculturated, and fairly well accommodated. Paul carries his Jewish learning with him wherever he goes, but he successfully connects with many people who have no Jewish background. He does not overwhelm people with his background but is subtle enough in his writings to where (I am assuming) most people can read and understand it, but well learned Jews would say oh he is writing with this method of interpretation. As I said in the other post, Paul writes using a qal wahomer argument (31), a Midrashic technique (31), and a Jewish style of argument over a fine detail of grammar (32). In this sense, I think he is staying faithful to his Jewish ways.
Much like the other post I see Paul as being a man who took full advantage of what was given to him by God, with the purpose of advancing the Gospel and becoming more like Christ. Paul used what he was taught, what he was born with, and what was culturally relevant (without sacrificing morality or straying from Christ) to further the Gospel. He used various methods of Jewish interpretation, as well as Jewish traditions from his time. (32) I have to return to 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, and think that we’ll be returning to this passage many more times throughout these postings. Paul states very clearly that he is not inclined by any worldly standards to do serve in the way he does, but that he does this “to win as many as possible.” (9:19) It’s this sacrifice that intrigues me so much about Paul’s ministry. Paul isn’t exclusive in who he is trying to reach out to. He doesn’t just minister to the Jews, or the Gentiles (everyone else who wasn’t a Jew), but he ministers to EVERYONE. So often I limit who I “can” serve by my gifts and laziness. I try to find people that will fit into my “style” of ministry. Paul doesn’t do that. He uses his gifts to fit into everyone else’s lives and minister to their needs. There is no exclusion. And none of this is for his gain either. (It wouldn’t be possible to minister like this for personal gain anyway). Instead, it’s “all for the sake of the gospel.” (9:23). Humbling stuff for sure.
It seems that Paul is laying out the essentials of faith as he saw them. Paul uses the lenses (Tarsian, Roman, and Jewish) he has encountered to help make sense of the gospel. What really is essential to faith? He comes to conclusions about circumcision (25), what to be called (17), responsibilities of men and women (14), as well as where he could or should minister to (66). Paul found that some aspects of his various heritages were essential (particular his Jewish background) while most were not. He remained faithful to much of his Jewish background but changed in that he would not compromise his Christian ideals for anything. He was no longer Saul the persecutor of Christians but rather Paul the missionary to all people. Paul fought for the essentials of Christian faith but also sensitive to the various lenses through which others looked upon the message of Jesus. Paul did not get caught up on non-essentials. I think that’s why we know certain things about him and not others. We know more about his ministry to different churches than the specifics of his appearance or struggles because those are essential to knowing who Paul was.
I really like where the last few posts are going with this discussion of Paul’s background. In Acts 21:39-40 Paul’s Hellenistic upbringing is made evident as he uses these qualities to address a large Jewish crowd in Jerusalem. The ESV says,”Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language” Polhill mentioned on page 6 that, “…Paul would not have been wholly sheltered from the Hellenistic culture of Tarsus; it would have influenced him in various and subtle ways.” God had blessed Paul with such a diverse lifestyle that he was able to use each facet in many different circumstances. It really inspires me to use every diverse aspect of my life to further God’s kingdom.
In my opinion, Paul may fit into the mid-to-high end of all of these sections, since he was called to minister to the gentiles, so in turn the Greco-Roman culture asserted itself over the Jewish way of life, and adjusting to the culture in his quest to “win many” as he says in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 was more important to Paul than sticking to the law and his Jewish heritage. If the Jewish way of life was very evident in Paul’s life, the criticism and persecution he received would have been minimal.
The fact that he was technically a Roman citizen and a Jewish Pharisee, it was tough to be accepted by both, since there is such a fine line between the two, and this is why he was persecuted as much as he was. He also used this to his advantage though, as we see Polhill describe on page 5 of the book when he describes the instance in where Paul is ordered to be beaten by a centurion for disturbing the peace, but quickly informs the centurion of his citizenship, since it was illegal to do such to a Roman citizen.
His gospel was very “Hellenized,” as described on page 7 of the book, where Polhill states, “Every city where Paul ministered was influenced by the Hellenistic culture and spirit, even Jerusalem.” He also brought the idea of Hellenism to Jerusalem from the city from Tarsus, where he first came into contact with the idea (7).
I think that Paul was true to his heritage as a part of a Jewish family, while being influenced by a Hellenistic culture in Tarsus. Growing up in a Diaspora Jewish family would have given him a significant amount of religious instruction, which is evidenced by his ability to use Greek Scripture easily. He would have learned his Greek Bible in the synagogues or from inside his family circle. “The life of a pious Diaspora Jewish family like Paul’s would have centered around the synagogue” (9). Paul had been influenced by Hellenistic culture also, and he used that to relate his message to the variety of people he ministered to. It is obvious that he was influenced by Hellenistic culture because he uses the form of Hellenistic moral teaching. Although the content would be different, he used the form of teaching to help his audience follow along with what he was saying (14). One such way was of the household order that he used in Colossians 3:18-21 where he talks about the relationships of husbands and wives, children and parents. I would therefore say, assimilation: mid, acculturation: high, and accommodation: mid.
Paul was a man that really had a lot of benefits at his disposal and was quite willing and very able to use them effectively. In Acts 21 and 22 Paul seems to use everything he has just to be true to God and trying to spread the gospel and protect himself. One of the things that most interests me was the influence that Tarus had on him, specifically when it came to his Greek education in the gymnastic sports. Although many Jews did not seem to like what was associated with the gymnasiums (mostly because of nudity) Polhill says that “Paul’s athletic references are tooo pervasive in his letters for him to have shared the antipathy that some Jew felt toward the games” (11). As a culture that very much loves its sports, games, and competitions I think that this resonates with many of us in a way that it might not if he was not from Tarus. Also since Paul was writing to Greeks he could communicate with them very well. I think that as elizabeth has shared that using every aspect of our lives can work wonders in relating to people to further the kingdom.
Paul was well known for preaching the gospel among Gentiles and any one who would listen really. Whenever I think of Paul I think of how he was in prison and beat, yet he was still
praising God for all his blessing and preaching the gospel. I also think of how Paul was first seen in the Bible as a man who hated God and hated the gospel beaing taught to his people.
So I believe that Paul is at the high end of assimilation, acculturation, and accomodation. I believe that Paul had a very high respect for Jews and their culture, while still maintaining
a high level of knowledge of the Greco-Roman world and culture. Paul used his knowledge of the Greco-Roman world to his advantage when spreading the gospel and sharing Gods love.
A key mission’s buzz word flew into my head when reading this post. Contextualization is all about making the gospel understandable to the culture that a person is reaching out to. Paul doesn’t just relate the gospel to the people but, he also was able to get “in deep” with the cultures that He was trying to reach by revealing his commonalities. If God called me to be a missionary I know I would wish to be able to relate to the culture like Paul could. Paul didn’t just relate to the culture instead he was able to integrate into the culture when he needed it because of the locations he lived and the family of his past life which is part of the reason why Paul was the greatest missionary of all time. God gave him many tools to use during his missionary journeys to change around situations by such as when he “quickly informed the Roman centurion that he was a roman citizen” (p.5). It seemed like Paul had the equivalent of an ace in his pocket at all times
I know some have posted it already, but I think I don’t think a point can be made on this topic without 1 Corinthians 9. Paul has become all things to all people so that he might save some. As I read about this, and think about it, it’s so awesome to have the full story of Paul laid out. Before Paul knew anything about what God would have him do, he was being molded and shaped for his ministry. Paul never knew he would be the light to the gentiles, and to the world, but God did. Paul had the trifecta going (Jew, Greek, Roman) and God had it planned this way for a purpose. It’s so amazing to see God working in the same way in the 21st century. All of us here at Grace have been molded and shaped into the people God wants us to be for our service to him. Before we even knew we were going to be involved in ministry or any other career, God’s plan for our lives was already in motion. I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a specific purpose, and it’s the same with Paul here.
As far as how “hellenized” Paul was, I believe he is around the high end for all three catergories, especially acculturation. As we took a look at Paul’s speeches in Acts last semester, we saw how well he is at using rhetoric, and how well he knows Greek culture, especially while debating with the philosophers in Athens.
• As far as Assimilation, Paul lies somewhere in the middle. Being known for spreading the Gospel among the Gentiles, it can be clearly obvious that he doesn’t fit into the low end of the spectrum. But he also still holds onto his heritage as a Jew. He still follows Jewish practices and still keeps their festivals.(Polhill 26) He grew up in a Tarsus, where he would have been surrounded by Greek culture, and yet, he grew up in a Jewish family, and even his elementary education was from a Jewish, not Greek school.(Polhill 10) It seemed that his family was trying to keep Paul from being to Hellenistic.
• When it comes to Acculturation, Paul measures pretty high on the scale. There really is no doubt that Paul was highly educated. He could speak and write the language of the Greeks, as we see from his letters. He also seems to have had some education of the Greek poets, and writers.(Polhill 10) We see this when he speaks to the Greek Philosophers, with whom he also seems to be able to quite easily relate to.(Polhill 13)
• Paul would also measure highly when it comes to Accommodation. He puts to use his knowledge of the language in multiple letters to the churches he worked with. He also used his status as a Roman citizen on a number of occasions, such as in Acts 22, to avoid a scourging,(Polhill 5) and even when appealing to Caesar in Acts 25.(Polhill 15) Paul doesn’t seem the least bit ashamed of his citizenship with Rome, or of his Greek education. It was one of his greatest assets to being the Apostle to the Gentiles.
In Conclusion, Paul seems to be pretty Hellenized. He may still follow the Jewish festivals and practices, but he has embraced his Hellenistic ways.
After reading a substantial amount of posts, I find myself to be in a high level of agreement with Simmer. I believe that God blessed Paul with a rich upbringing and heritage, and Paul capitalized on all of these blessings. As Joe P. said, “God had a beautiful plan for Paul’s life.” God gave Paul the experience and upbringing to be the great minister that he became. To answer the question of whether or not Paul remained faithful to his Jewish heritage, I would have to say, “Yes.” Polhill gives a nice list of references on the last paragraph of page 26. Among the examples are the following: keeping the Jewish festivals, taking a Nazarite vow, and participating in the vows of others (Polhill 26).
My main point however, was my agreement with Simmer. Paul used everything in his “arsenal” to be the most effective minister he could be. He was true to himself and his heritage, but his highest goal was the furthering of God’s Kingdom.
Polhill points out that “Paul remained a Jew even as a Christian. He kept the Jewish festivals. He maintained Jewish practices…” (Polhill 26). I think while reading the scriptures it is relatively clear that Paul does not depart from his heritage, but also that as human, you are always being influenced by the culture around you (for Paul, the Hellenistic culture). The effects of the Hellenistic culture can be seen spread lightly through his writing (evidence in his quoting Menander, Aratus, and Epimendes), but looking over his writings and history throughout his ministry, it is clear that he stayed true to his Jewish heritage.
As others have noted, 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23 speaks volumes about what Paul’s ministry and purpose was about. He was about winning souls for Christ. He did not need to compromise who he was in Christ to do this. He simply strove to understand the culture of all he came in contact with to relate to them on a deeper level. God certainly picked the right man for the job. Paul’s background helped him immensely to relate to both Jews and Gentiles. As Polhill points out, Paul was fluent in Greek, knowledgeable of the current philosophical beliefs and knew much about athletics. On the other hand, Paul could boast of his heritage, Torah knowledge, and Pharisee standing. He was Hellenized, but not to the point that he was out of touch with the Jews.
For me it is difficult to see where Paul drew the line with becoming Hellenized. He did not partake in reverse circumcision or pagan activities but he must gone in a gymnasium to see nude athletics, which was seen as taboo to most Jews. In our culture now where do we draw the line? Is familiarizing yourself with popular music, TV shows and movies OK in order to be in touch with non-Christians? Most things that our culture glorifies are riddled with foul language, sex and violence.
I feel like this post is not going to be much different from my other post. Paul is again still adhering to his Jewish customs. Acts 21:39 says “Paul answered, I am a Jew, from Tarsus and Cilcia, a citizen of no ordinary people. please let me speak to the people.” FRom this verse, we note that Paul wanted to speak to the poeple of different cities even though he was Jewish. He was willing to do what ever good missionary ought to do and that is meeting the people where they are at. He did this in various ways such as speaking the language and dressing as they do. Paul had a very Hellenistic approach to his ministry as a missionary. Polhill writes on page 14 “Paul followed the form of Hellenistic moral teaching.” More specifically, Paul adhered to the form of aculturation which means he meat the people where they are. Dave makes a good point when saying Paul used what was culturally relevant to reach the people. He was able to do so without straying from the gospel or what god had called him to do.
Polhil writes on page 26, “Paul remained a Jew even as a Christian. He kept the Jewish festivals. He maintained Jewish practices, like taking a Nazarite vow and participating in the vows of others. He insisted on the circumcision of Timothy because of his Jewish mother.” Later Polhil makes the point that Paul viewed the gentiles as participating in God’s salvation in results of God’s election of Israel.
I find it interesting that Paul continues to keep the Law even though he believes that salvation is grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8). At one point Polhil emphasizes that Paul considered his relationship with Christ above keeping the law. If anything I believe Paul’s gospel to the gentiles was given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ. We find this in the language of the ‘mystery’ given to Paul which was hidden from the prophets in the old testament. (Eph 1, 3) I would say that he wrote the gospel from his understanding of hellenistic culture and his heritage as a jew as well. I believe Polhil addresses this in the first two chapters.