Paul: A Hebrew of the Hebrews

John Polhill uses Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3:4-6 to describe Paul’s Jewish heritage.  In this passage Paul says he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, and the Tribe of Benjamin, a ‘Hebrew of the Hebrews.’”

  • Paul’s claim in Philippians is that he is a proper Jew – circumcised on the eighth day indicates that he comes from a family that is keeping the Jewish traditions despite living in Tarsus.  It is possible that there were Diaspora Jews who did not keep this tradition or even did not circumcise their boys.
  • The reference to being a member of Israel connects Paul to the covenant as a member of Abraham’s family.  Paul was not a Jew pretending to be a Greek, but rather a Jew who was well aware of his heritage as a child of Abraham.
  • That Paul claims to be from the tribe of Benjamin is significant since not every Jew in the first century could claim to know they were from a particular tribe.  Paul’s Jewish name “Saul” is taken from the first king of Israel, from the tribe of Benjamin, and Paul’s teacher in Jerusalem, Gamaliel, was also from the tribe of Benjamin.
  • The phrase “Hebrew of the Hebrews” can be taken in several ways.  This phrase may mean that Paul was born of true Jewish blood, that there is no Gentile in his linage. It is sometimes suggested that Paul is referring to his ability to speak and read Hebrew. Not all Jews spoke the language, especially in the home.  If there is an increasing specificity in the list of descriptions, then perhaps Polhill is right and Paul is saying that he is from an extremely Jewish family, one that still speaks the language at home (Pollhill, Paul and his Letters, 26).

Paul is, in the words of J. B. Lightfoot, making a progressive argument.  A convert to Judaism may be circumcised, someone with some Gentile in his linage might claim a tribal affiliation, but Paul is a pure-bred true Jew!  Of course, in Philippians 3 Paul is clear that this heritage is of no value now that he is “in Christ,” but it seems obvious that Paul’s Jewish heritage is one of the major factors behind his successful evangelism.

Does Paul depart from his heritage?  In some ways his theology is certainly radical, but perhaps not as radical as often assumed.

59 thoughts on “Paul: A Hebrew of the Hebrews

  1. St. Paul’s gospel is itself a full “revelation” of God In Christ! As Paul states himself in Gal. 1:11-12, but it is also poured forth from out of the life and call of God in the life of St. Paul himself (Gal. 1:15-24). And St. Paul sees his life as that of one who has been called and found mercy…

    “Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:16) And note too, Paul was “foremost” a sinner! (Verse 15)

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  2. Hmm, it seems like Paul is trying again to make a point that he is all things to all people. (1 Cor 9:22b) Paul does not depart from his heritage. Sure, he may take a few steps away from it in order to meet certain people where they are, but he does not leave it entirely. Using circumcision as an example, Paul says if your Jewish go ahead and get circumcised if that is what makes you happy. If your a gentile then don’t get circumcised. Or as Polhill puts it “he could himself claim circumcision and full Jewish pedigree, but none of that was of any importance to him any longer in comparison with his relationship to Christ” Essentially Paul is saying it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is Christ. All of the other “rules” that we follow are okay, but not necessary in the least for salvation. And I would say that this “theology” was super radical! The Jews were used to following rules and rules and rules. Then Paul walks in and says it is not about the rules, its about faith.

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    • “Essentially Paul is saying it doesn’t matter.” OK, now think about this. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant from the time of Abraham on and people went to *war* to maintain that tradition only two hundred years before Paul. It is therefore serious business to the Jews – how can Paul “maintain his Jewish-ness” and say that the sign given By God to Abraham
      “Does not matter”?

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    • The name Paul is Latin not Hebrew meaning small in stature. His name was Shaul not Paul. Yah never change his name. Paul is inserted in the bible by man. Shaul was a Pharisee. Shaul was born in Roman so that makes him a citizen of Roman. Everybody today wants to be who they are not. You are who your father is not who you mother is. Yah told Abraham he would be the father of many nations. He did not say that Sarah would be the mother of many nations. Omar Shrif claim he is Egyptian because he was born in Alexanderia, Egypt when his father is Arab. It is not where born it what our father DNA is. There is no “j’ in the Hebrew alphabet then or now. So there could not have been a person call jew. There were no Joseph, John, Judea, Jordan, Jerusalem or no one call jesus. You know it or you dumb. You cannot change the truth no matter how hard you try. Mat. 10:26-28, Yah says Fear them not for whatever is covered shall be revealed and whatever is hidden shall be known. HE mention four different times in the so-call bible. So it is time to stop the lying. Ye shall know the truth and the truth will set you free. Are you free? In time to take the yoke from around your neck. No one will reply to my comments because they know I am right and you can not dispute the truth.

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      • “You know it or you dumb.” ” No one will reply to my comments because they know I am right and you can not dispute the truth.”

        Well done, you have effectively made your point!

        Honestly, you really are coming out of left field, since your comment is not on the topic of his post at all. Many Jews in the first century had both a Hebrew name (Saul) and a name used when dealing with Gentiles (Paul). That is not even controversial. You are not wrong, you are just being obnoxious about it.

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      • Let me apologize for my incorrect spelling from the start but I don’t understand the statement about ‘j’ not existing in the Hebrew alphabet. How does that prove those people didn’t exist? You have spelled their names in English but as far as I know the original versions of these names of people and places started with ‘Y’. Yousef, Yordan, Yerushalem, Yeshua and a name like James is actually Yakob. If I have misunderstood your statement I apologize.

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      • V – that comment is a year and a half old, so I doubt that troll will ever respond to you. His point is valid, there is no J since that is an English letter, but his application is pointless and one of the silliest things I have read in a long time.

        The Hebrew yod was often transliterated to a J, more recently to a Y. The German J has a Y-like sound, not “jay.” So you are correct…

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      • Phillip Long-
        “Core Beliefs are different than changeable practices.If you visit another country, you need to follow their customs in order not to offend. If I visit a Muslim country, I do not stop believing Jesus is God, but I also do not intentionally offend them by trying to shove it in their faces every chance I get. Eat their food, appreciate their culture, be a kind person and express genuine love towards them, and only then you might get the chance to share Jesus.”

        This is false since Muslims eat food that is scarified in the name of Allah. Halal meat is clearly food sacrificed to idols nor is it biblical.Since Allah was a idol in the Kabba before Islam was even created by Mohammed. It is not only forbidden in the Torah and it is also what Paul stated for new believers coming into the faith to abstain from.

        Moreover, the Koran says that the people of the book are to keep to the tenants and the commandments given to them. So even the Koran says Jews and Christians are NOT to partake in such things. Contrary to popular belief the New Testament states kosher laws are still in effect.

        Sura (5:68)Say, “O People of the Scripture, you are [standing] on nothing until you uphold [the law of] the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to you from your Lord.” And that which has been revealed to you from your Lord will surely increase many of them in transgression and disbelief. So do not grieve over the disbelieving people.
        Koran says obey the bible. The bible says not to eat such things.

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  3. I don’t feel that Paul ever set aside his heritage unless it was, as Chris said, to become all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:22), but I feel the key to this logic lays in the next verse when Paul says, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:23) There were times when he would use his lineage and heritage to his necessitated advantage (such as claiming his Roman citizenship or in the account of Acts 23 when he declared himself a Pharisee) but there were also times when he was willing to leave that aside for the time to accomplish his goal. Polhill writes, “Paul remained a Jew even as a Christian…for him it was always ‘First for the Jews, then for the gentiles.'” (Polhill, 26) Fully embraced his heritage and used every blessing that could come from it.

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  4. I really like what is being discussed here. Liz Makes an excellent point when she says Paul never “set aside” his heritage unless Christ said to become all things to all men. Polhill writes on pg. 26 “for him it was first for the Jew then for the Gentile.In 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 Paul writes “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. 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.” I am quite impressed by the strategy Paul uses in his mission work. He is meeting the people where they are at. This is something in ministry that we need to do whether we are missionaries, worship leaders, or youth pastors, we need to be intentional in how we reach out to others so that we can use our established relationships as a stepping stone to sharing the gospel with them. I would say again that Paul does not necessarily leave his Jewish heritage, he is just following what CHrist has called out for him, and meeting the people where they are at.

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    • Sounds more like a fraud and deceitful person. You can meet a person where they are at but you bring truth on their level. You don’t change your doctrine WHO YOU ARE OR YOUR CUSTOMS in order to convert someone. The question becomes what are you converting them into then?

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      • Core Beliefs are different than changeable practices.If you visit another country, you need to follow their customs in order not to offend. If I visit a Muslim country, I do not stop believing Jesus is God, but I also do not intentionally offend them by trying to shove it in their faces every chance I get. Eat their food, appreciate their culture, be a kind person and express genuine love towards them, and only then you might get the chance to share Jesus.

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  5. It seems Paul was proud of his Jewish heritage, perhaps especially pre-conversion, before he had anything greater (Christ) to hang his hat on. Post-conversion he uses his Jewish heritage quite a bit like credentials to say, “Okay, guys, look, I have a right to speak,” such as in 2 Corinthians 12:21-23: “But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one.” But he quickly mentions in Philippians that (as others have stated) all he once held so highly he now considers trash for Christ’s sake (3:7-9).

    Paul only really departs from his Jewish heritage when it is a hindrance to others or to the newness found in Christ. For instance, Paul publicly rebuked Peter when Peter moved from his seat with the Gentiles to sit with the Jews when they entered the room (Galatians 2:11-13). This was a distinction that the Jews had between themselves and the Gentiles, and apparently Peter didn’t want to “look bad” in front of the Jews. But Paul confronts him with the truth that it is more a matter of the heart – faith – whether one is to be accepted or not (2:15-16); it doesn’t matter whether they are technically Jews or Gentiles, for Abraham’s children are those of faith (Galatians 3:7), not those with the marks of circumcision.

    On other occasions, where there was no need to stray from Jewish customs, Paul often did so, as Polhill mentions: “He kept the Jewish festivals (1 Cor. 16:8). He maintained Jewish practices, like taking a Nazarite vow (Acts 18:18) and participating in the vows of others (Acts 21:26)” (pg. 26). Paul wasn’t afraid of being Jewish. His only concern in such practices was that he not be a stumbling block to others (Romans 14:13).

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    • Ryan – “Paul only really departs from his Jewish heritage when it is a hindrance to others or to the newness found in Christ.” But that would mean commands of God (circumcision) are negotiable if the hinder evangelism? That is what some people say was the motivation for dropping circumcision (Gentiles freak at the thought, so the apostle to the gentiles just dropped it to gain more converts).

      I think there has to be a more principled reason for Paul to not insist on gentile circumcision, besides getting gentiles saved. (Hint: read Galatians!)

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      • Eventhough he circumsized Timothy before he went into ministry, especially since the city was rebelling against him for not doing so beforehand? Paul nor anyone in the bible ever taught against circumcision nor does any book in the bible. It is a covenant that all those coming into the covenant have to be circumcised. It was established since the days of Abraham forever. Forever means forever. There is nothing abrogation in the bible, that is only in the Koran.

        This is clearly minhag vs halachot:

        Orthodox and Conservatives unfortunately follow this minhag. Which states that people circumcised coming back into the faith have to be recircumcised by pricking blood from the fore skin, cutting of more of the foreskin or even having rabbis suck a foreskin. However, if you didnt adhere you were not considered not in covenant.

        However, in the Torah, Abraham is the first to be circumcised and it was done AFTER he found favor and proved his faith. The circumcision of the heart always comes before the the physical circumcision. However, since youre dealing with allot of corrupt Rabbinical doctrine, they essentially flipped the circumcisions and made it a salvation issue to gain power.

        This is what Paul is teaching about, corrupt Rabbinics and traditions. Hes not Preachinjg against Judaism or Torah.

        Youre still stripping away the hebraics of the bible and context of that time and the fact that Paul is Jewish, practiced Judaism and wasnt Christian. Hes a Pharisee who believed in Yeshua, upheld Torah but preached against rabbinic teachings (fences) that corrupted Torah and became stumbling blocks for natural born Jews and converts.

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  6. I wonder If Paul had not been raised with such a basis in the faith and the Jewish customs, if anyone would have listened to him when he preached, or if Paul’s journey would have made as much impact as it has without his background in the words he spoke. If it had been another person such as Peter, or even another follower of Christ; who had not been raised with as much information as Paul… if the points could have been put across as well as Paul put them. There was an obvious reason in which Paul was confronted and then used for Christ’s work in leading others to Christ, and his heritage is an obvious gift from God for that.
    I feel as if Elizabeth and Ryan are making great points (fun for future posts in this class), Ryan said something that stuck out to me, about Paul publically rebuking Peter. I read into that passage just to get my boundaries (Galatians 2:1-14), and I loved the part where Paul said “As for those who seemed to be important-whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance-those men added nothing to my message (Gal. 2:6)”. I thought that this goes along well with Paul’s ministry, it does not matter to Paul who you are, or if you are someone famous, if it can go along with what he is trying to preach he will use you for God. “Paul even quoted a Stoic Philosopher (Polhill p.13)” Paul was well equipped with information and with knowledge in Biblical points and with arguments for Christ’s ministry. It did not seem to matter to him who he was quoting, or speaking against as long as it was for the glory and honor of God, ergo the confrontation of Peter in Galatians.
    I do not believe Paul ever departed from his heritage, I think God gave him it as a gift and showed him the right instances to use it. His theology might be radical, but he has a radical story, a radical life and God used him radically in every way that he could physically and mentally. God never gave Paul something he could not handle, and Paul had a great foundation in which he could stand on, he had a firm foundation build on God’s word ( like in Matt. 7:24-27) and he continually went back to his heritage and used it.

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  7. Paul gives his list of credentials in Philippians as a means to show the authority he holds in presenting the gospel. Similar to the time in Acts 22:3 when he mentions that his teacher was Gamaliel. He is showing his audience that he is not just another guy talking of the top of his head but he has studied and that he knows what he is talking about. This way he is able to bring the message of Christ to his audience from a position in which they will give what he has to say more consideration.

    The list of Paul’s credentials from Philippians includes the phrase “a Hebrew of the Hebrews,” (Philippians 3:6). Though the rest of the list seems to be fairly specific (“circumcised the eighth day,” “tribe of Benjamin,” “concerning the law, a Pharisee,” etc.) Polhill states that, “…it refers to the ability to speak the Hebrew language,” (26). However, I do not understand that connection. If Paul is referring to his ability to speak the Hebrew language rather than a reference to his Jewish heritage then why would he phrase it in the way he did? I’m not a Bible scholar or a language expert but it doesn’t make sense to me for this phrase to refer to the Hebrew language. Rather, it seems more like summation of what is listed previous. “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews;” (Philippians 3:5). It seems like its more akin to someone saying “I was born Maine. I served two tours of duty and a term in congress. I’m a true American.” It would also seem to fit the context of the rest of the passage in which he goes on to discuss how worthless it all is compared to Christ.

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  8. I would like to discuss a little bit on Chris’ and P. Long’s postings. Even though being circumcised or not might not seem like an issue to fight over, it is something that signifies the Jewish people from Abraham until now. That’s why I also believe when Paul implies that hardly anything according to the law matters anymore in Philippians 3 it is a very radical move.
    Polhill says, “It was viewed as a badge of membership in the covenant people of God” (25). It was so important to the people that if someone was converted that they would get circumcised soon after their conversion no matter their age. (That would make me think twice about becoming a Jew.) Even though it is a trademark sign of becoming a Jew, we see that Paul doesn’t seem to think that it’s a big deal anymore. What he is saying that, he is the most qualified person there is but he still is nothing without faith in Christ. He was circumcised, he came from the right tribe, he was “faultless”, but still considers it all rubbish. We can see even more of where he is coming from if we look at Romans 3. Paul explains we can obtain righteousness only through faith. In verse 27 he says, “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle: on that of observing the law: No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith, and the uncircumcised through that same faith.”
    Now to P. Long’s question. I don’t know if there is a nice way for Paul to confront the Jewish people about this issue. Yeah, 200 years ago I could see they were fighting over the issue but that was before Christ came. Now that Jesus came and died for us we can put our faith fully in Him and take Paul’s gospel to heart and really know the only thing that matters is our faith in Christ. I think it is just one of those things that the Jews didn’t really want to hear even though it’s the truth. I may be wrong but I don’t think that Paul can really maintain his full “jewish-ness” and still convey the truth that he wants to share.

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    • We miss Paul’s Apostolic ministry and truth, if we fail to see that for Paul the whole Gospel reality is seen from the place of National Israel! (Rom. 9:4-5 ; 11: 5-36) Paul saw the Gospel, Covenants, and the Election of God, from “Israel”! (Rom. 15:8 & 9, etc.) And Jesus Himself is ‘the Elect of God’, and the Messiah of God! The King of Israel! And as Jesus Himself said, “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship,for salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22) The Salvation History of God is Jewish, Abrahamic and Covenantal… In Jesus Christ! (Heb. 13:20-21) See also, (Gal. 6:11-16, etc.).

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  9. I seem to recall we addressed this issue in class and on this blog during Acts last semester. Tempting tho it may be to hunt down that post and re-post my comment (I seem to recall PLong appreciated it) I will try to readdress this in a fresh way (utilizing the additional resource of Polhill of course).
    Anyway, the idea of Paul departing Judaism for a more hellenistic Christianity is possibly accurate, but really an unnecessary distinction. Theologically, the move from Judaism to Christianity was a lateral move. The theology and doctrines of Christianity and Judaism are virtually identical. The only significant difference is that for the Christian, Jesus fulfilled the Law, so we no longer have to. In this way, the circumcision was reasonable to expect of the Jewish Christians because, while they are now Christians free from the law, they are also Jews and the national representatives of the Law that condemns as Christianity is the “national” representative of the grace that Redeems!

    Seen in this way, Paul did not truly depart from Judaism, he followed Judaism to its necessary and providential conclusion and fulfillment in light of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

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  10. I believe that Paul’s call to set aside circumcision for Gentile converts serves as evidence to both existing Jewish followers as well as new converts to Christianity that the message of salvation through Christ is genuine. By discontinuing a tradition/law of his fathers which is “extremely zealous for” (27), Paul is testifying to the extreme transformation that has taken place in his life. What better way to show Christians whom your “very breath spewed threat and murder against” (Acts 9:1) that you are now a believer in Christ other than to set aside the law which you have dedicated your entire lifetime preserving?

    Also, as others have alluded to, “Circumcision was the external mark which set a person apart as a Jew” (25). Prior to Christ’s death and resurrection salvation was only given to God’s chosen people, the Israelites. By ending the tradition that marked a ‘Jew a Jew’ and a ‘Gentile a Gentile’ it seems that Paul wanted to make sure people understood God’s message that the hope of salvation was now being extended beyond the nation of Israel. Therefore, there was no longer a need for outsiders to become circumcised in order to enter the covenant through Christ.

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    • Very good point! It seems that St. Paul places the spiritual idea of circumcision, to the Death & Cross of Christ, which for Paul is now the sign and seal in Baptism. (Col. 2:11-14, etc.) But, it is still a covenantal reality, now ‘In Christ’.

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  11. I do not believe that Paul ever departs from his Jewish heritage. 1 Corinthians 16:8, Acts 21:26; 16:3, and Romans 1:16; 2:9-10 all help prove that, even though Paul became a Christian, he was true to his Jewish roots. Even though Paul may set aside parts of his lifestyles when he goes and preaches to different groups of people (based off of 1 Corinthians 9:22) doesn’t mean he is dropping who he is as a Jew. “For him, it was always ‘first for the Jew, then for the Gentile’ (Rom. 1:16; 2:9-10).” Even when Paul became a Christian, he still maintained that he was Jewish, in the line of Abraham, and from the tribe of Benjamin. By Paul saying these statements, he is showing that he was still well educated, well aware, and well integrated into his life as a Jew. As Pohill stated it “Paul’s response was that he could himself claim circumcision and a full Jewish pedigree, but none of that was of any importance to him any longer in comparison with his relationship to Christ” (Paul and His Letters 25). I would like to comment a bit on what Phil Long asks: “how can Paul ‘maintain his Jewish-ness’ and say that the sign given By God to Abraham ‘Does not matter’”. I personally feel that Paul still believes that if someone were to follow the Jewish Law that they need be circumcised and that if they are of Jewish decent, they should as well be circumcised. If he thought circumcision didn’t matter any more, he would not have insisted Timothy be circumcised due to the fact his mother were Jewish (Acts 16:3). however, I believe that Paul had also “come to see that circumcision was no longer essential to God’s people in the light of Christ” (Paul and His Letters 25). I read up a lot in Galatians (especially chapters 5 and 6) and through that I can see that through those passages (5:1-11, 6:11-16) Paul is noticing that Jesus’ coming brought a new era where “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:11). Paul is just doing as Christ commanded.

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    • Amen Sara! Galatians chapter’s 5 & 6 are especially pronounced here! But Paul’s new “sign” of his now spiritual circumcision (Col. 2:11-12, etc.), is his “brand-marks of Jesus”, (Gal. 6:17). And in some manner, it must be/become ours also! (2 Cor. 4:7-11, etc.)

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  12. Mitchell Connelly-

    It seems to me, Paul still values his heritage, and in no way forgets it after his conversion. And yet it also seems apparent that he knows under his new faith in Christ, that his heritage is no longer a factor in his salvation, nor is he still constrained to Jewish law. In 1 Corinthians 9:20, Paul writes “When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.” Paul is pretty clear that he does not need to follow Jewish law any more. But as Polhill writes in Paul in His Letters, “Paul remained a Jew even as a Christian.”(Polhill 26) He still kept the festivals, and upheld the practices. He still valued his heritage. I also find it interesting that Paul, known for being the missionary to the Gentiles, saw the Gospel to be “First for the Jews, then for the Gentile.”(Polhill 26) It almost gives me this image of Paul, earnestly spreading the gospel to his Jewish brothers, and when they remained against his teachings, ministering to the Gentiles by default. When the Jews wouldn’t listen, then Gentiles would.

    We see in Acts 15, when the Jerusalem Council and Paul debate about being saved and circumcision. Paul stands firm on the belief that circumcision is not necessary. This again is Paul stating that the Law is not necessary in our salvation. And yet Paul presses for Timothy’s circumcision, because of his Jewish heritage. (Polhill 26) Once again, it seems that Paul, although believing that Jewish law is unnecessary to his salvation, does not walk away from his heritage.

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  13. I pretty much agree with what most people are saying here. In general, Paul stuck firmly to his beliefs as a Jew. Even as he is the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul is seemingly Jewish. As Polhill points out in his book “Paul and His Letters,” “In his writings, Paul reflected his Pharisaic Torah training” (31). Polhill lists three different ways that Paul reflected his Hebrew heritage through his writings. “Paul used a qal wahomer argument, one which argued from the lesser to the greater” (31). In 2 Corinthians Paul uses the “Midrashic technique” (31) as well. And in Galatians 3:16, Paul uses a seemingly Jewish argument where “Jewish interpreters would build elaborate arguments around small points of grammar” (32). In my opinion, Paul was a very intelligent and well-learned man. He knew that people would analyze his writings, and he probably would not write with Jewish traditions if he did not believe them himself. In each of the examples that I just wrote about, Paul was writing to Gentiles. He could have easily written to them in a more Hellenistic fashion, but he (I believe) purposefully wrote to them in a Jewish fashion to show that he is personally still following the Law as one who is still a Jew.
    Even so, as others have stated, Paul does say he, “Became like a Jew, to win the Jews” (1 Cor. 9:20). He continues on to say that he is not under the Law, which is very true. Since Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, nobody needs to be under the Law (Romans 3:28). Paul does suggest it to some Jewish believers (Romans 3:31) but maintains that faith is much more important than the Law (Romans 4:13). To conclude, I think that Paul has stuck with his past completely Jewish pre-Christian life but also became a more liberal Jew once he became a Christian. He still believed in the Law for some but preaches faith by grace.

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  14. “Paul only really departs from his Jewish heritage when it is a hindrance to others or to the newness found in Christ.” I have seen this a couple of times, and I really do not believe that Paul “set aside his heritage” at any point in his ministry. As said in Polhill The Greeks and Romans did not understand nor like the circumcision, they consider it a defacing of the body. “As a Jew, Paul never denied his own circumcision.” (Polhill 25) So we see here, even though others did not like this part of the Jewish religion, Paul still never set this aside. He owned up, and respected what he believed in. He also never forced this on any Greek or Gentile. He did however tell Timothy that he should because he was a Jew (Act 16:1-3) And so we see that he did circumcise Timothy.

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    • We will get to Timothy and his circumcision eventually, but this is interesting: “I really do not believe that Paul “set aside his heritage” at any point in his ministry.” When Paul is with Gentiles, how does he “become all things to all men” if he does not eat with them. Would that not almost require him to set aside the food laws? Unless he ate only his own vegetables, he would have almost certainly transgressed food laws when he was with a Gentile congregation.

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  15. Maybe I’m missing the point here, but it seems to me that Paul is not trying to persuade anyone of his Jewish heritage in this Philippians 3 passage. The way I am interpreting it is that Paul is trying to give an example of why he would have reason to boast in the “flesh” (Phil. 3:4). I understand that Pohill is trying to use this passage as an example of Paul’s heritage (Pohill 24) but the contexts of these verses have nothing to do with Paul’s background, but rather they have to do with having no confidence in our flesh and what we can accomplish outside of Christ.
    I’m going to play devil’s advocate a little here. Everyone agrees that Paul never left his heritage, in fact, it seems that most people are saying that Paul uses his heritage and lineage to boast a little to those he speaks to. But I wonder if Paul did leave his heritage. He couldn’t fully believe in the Jewish traditions anymore and still be a truly converted Christian. That would contradict what Jesus says then, “I am the way the truth and the light, no man comes to the Father but by Me.” (John 14:6) So Paul had to leave his heritage in some way in order to truly follow after Jesus right? “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. Old things pass away, behold, all things become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

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  16. Paul being a Pharisee held great implications both before his conversion (his ruthless persecution of the Church) and after (his testimony to the transforming work of Christ). Polhill considered a few of the reasons for his violent persecution, especially considering his teacher, Gamaliel’s, views on violence. “Paul may have possessed a strong messianic hope… And Christ must have seemed a false Messiah to Paul… There is a strong likelihood that it was his messianic fervor that fueled his fury against what he saw as dangerous false Messianism.” (38). This belief, combined with his religious zeal may have drove Paul to disregard Gamaliel’s teaching and adopt a more ‘zealot’ mindset approach. I found it interesting that Polhill pointed out the similarities between the beliefs of the Pharisees and Jesus: “Jesus had much in common with the Pharisees… they of all people should have understood his message”. (29). And yet, they chose rather to turn their backs and plot to kill him. Jesus responded to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 by exposing their hypocrisy. Paul realizes that his former religious ways were wrong, and that the only true way of encountering God is when he first comes to us (29). However, if Paul had not had such a horrifying past, and if it wasn’t for his Jewish ancestry, than his evangelism may not have been as successful (as you pointed out towards the end of your post). It’s amazing how God works out everything for good.

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  17. I like what Joe is bringing up in this comment, and I believe that it’s what Chris was referencing initially as well. In Philippians 3:5-11 Paul is talking about counting all of his fleshly confidence as worthless. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (3:7) All of the confidence, birth rights, pride, and social standing that Paul had obtained throughout his life, up until his encounter with Christ, was no longer worth anything to him in the eternal, and earthly perspective. The rest of that passage shows the zeal of Paul’s character in his pursuit of Christ, (even joining in sufferings and death like Christ) and his striving toward the “prize.” Polhill mentions this when he says, “True circumcision for the Christian is not a mark of the flesh but a spiritual dedication of the heart to God.” (25) Paul has this exact same heart dedication by denying the social standings, comforts, and pride that came in the Jewish community (much like Christ) and instead pursued God, striving to be just like Christ.

    Another thought that I had about the instances where Paul claims his Roman citizenship and Jewish heritage is this; It seems that every time he made claims like this in Acts (16:37-39, 22:25-29, and 23:27) it was not done in a way for personal gain, but to continue presenting the Gospel of Christ. By making these claims he was helping to ensure better trials and avoid some beatings, but it was also a way to present the Gospel message. Here was a by birth, Jewish, Roman citizen being persecuted for the Gospel by other Jews and Romans. By mentioning his status in these instances I see it as a way to minister to those who had him in captivity. I have to imagine that they would be asking questions about this man, and would be questioning the Gospel, as they learned these things about him.

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  18. When Paul refers to his Jewish heritage, he always seems to downsize it, and put all the emphasis on being “in Christ,” rather than emphasizing what linage someone was born into. In this case, in Philippians 3:4-6 he reflects on his heritage, but then right after, in verses 7-11, reflects on what he truly believes is important. He says in verse 9 that he wants to gain Christ and “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.”

    This is not to say that Paul departs from his heritage though, because he definitely hangs on to it, to use it as a tool to relate to people, like he talks about in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. The book even states that several times Paul refers to his Jewish heritage, and most of the references occur in contexts where his Jewish background was important to his argument (Polhill, 24).

    I believe that in the time of his theology, it is certainly radical, but as we look back, to us it is not as radical as it was back in biblical times.

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  19. In the New Testament we see Paul use the knowledge of his heritage frequently to spread the Gospel. He does the same with his Roman citizenship. Paul uses both almost as tools in him ministry. He was a Pharisee, and extensively knew and understood Jewish Law. Being a Roman citizen helped him, “stay out of trouble” so to speak, but Paul was a Jew.”Paul remained a Jew even as a Christian” ( Polhill ) I do not think using his Roman citizenship meant he was setting aside his heritage, but rather used some of the resources God gave him. I like what Emily mentioned about Paul being different from the Pharisees that Jesus addressed in Mathew 23. Paul recognized his wrongs and changed his ways, not his heritage, his ways when he became a Christian. I think that Paul did not drift from his heritage, but rather used it to help spread the Gospel.

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  20. I agree with David. Paul does not use his heritage for personal gains, but indeed for the spreading of the gospel. He merely used his Roman heritage as a last resort in the episode in Acts 22 so that he could live to continue his ministry. He is circumcised, he is in fact of the House of Israel, a descendant of the Tribe of Benjamin, as was pointed out by Polhill. These things all were in fact true and placed him on a field where the Jews would listen to him more as an equal at first rather than a wayward heretic. After the Pharisees heard the message, they then turned away from him and plotted against. However, he never once denied that he was a Jew, and I believe he was a practicing Jew. That does not mean that he refused to bend to fit the needs of his ministry, but rather that he followed the Law as well as he could while trying to spread the gospel of Christ. When speaking to the Galatians, he says:
    “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5: 2-6)”
    Now I do not think that Paul is saying to get rid of circumcision, but rather to forget circumcision as the way to salvation. For that is the work of Christ alone, which has been worked out by faith. This is the kind of persona that I believe that Paul continually takes with his Jewish background. It is not “Hey, let’s just forget that I’m a Jew for a couple hours until I need to be one.” but rather a “Judaism has its place, however, my Savior is the key and the hope to my salvation forever and ever, and nothing can take His place.” Polhill says on page 25, “True circumcision for the Christian is not a mark of the flesh but a spiritual dedication of the heart to God.” This is Paul’s belief. His Jewish beliefs and customs were outside showings of his inner faith.

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  21. I do not believe Paul would ever put his heritage aside without there being a reason and that reason most certainly being to minister to others. Like many have said already, Paul uses his social standings as resources and tools to minister and protect himself from being beaten or harmed. Polhill talks about Paul remaining a Jew even when he was a Christian. “He maintained Jewish practices, like taking a Nazarite vow (Acts 18:18) and participating in the vows of others (Acts 21:26)… Indeed, the greatest agony of his Christian life was to see most of his fellow Jews fail to respond to the gospel (Rom. 9:1-5) (26).” In this way, he never left his heritage behind. Philippians 3: 8-11, Paul lays out his goal and explains why he does these things. He does not do them to better himself but to bring glory to God and be like Christ. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Phil. 3:8 ESV).” Nothing is as important to him as knowing God more.

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  22. Paul uses his heritage to bring people closer to Christ. Although it seems that Paul is going back and forth between his heritage and “being one with Christ”, like Cory states. We have to think of where he is living and the culture that is around him. Paul is trying to relate everything that he is taught as a Jew and transform it into following Christ. It was very hard for Paul to watch his people turn from God. “Indeed the greatest agony of his Christian life was to see most of his fellow Jews fail to respond to the gospel” (Polhill 26). As Paul is pleading for his people in Romans 9:3-5, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen”. If anyone things that is is using his heritage, it is for the good of the people, and to have them experience Christ.

    There are countless examples of people that use where they come from in order to preach the good news. I know that in my life, I try to influence people to do good and know that the true source of grace and forgiveness is from God.

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    • Amen, St. Paul really never presses his Jewishness over or against his Christianity, for in reality they are One or together in fulfillment! For the Messiah was a Jew, and died as a Jew on the Cross. (Rom. 15: 8-9, etc.) It is here that we should see the theological reality of the Incarnation and the Covenant/covenants of God. There really is a Biblical Credo!

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  23. While reading, I found the section about why Paul persecuted Christians interesting. Paul never explains why he so fervently persecuted Christians, which leaves us to speculation. It is especially interesting because if Paul was influenced by Gamaliel, he certainly did not agree with the way Gamaliel proposed to treat Christians. Polhill mentioned something that I found interesting, he said, “There is a strong likelihood that it was his messianic fervor that fueled his fury against what he saw as a dangerous false Messianism” (38). Paul did not like that Christians said that Jesus Christ who was crucified was the Messiah. He despised the idea that the Messiah was to die “on a tree” and who was under a curse like it says in Galatians 3:13 (Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us). It was against everything that he grew up to think was true. It surprised me to think that Paul may have persecuted Christians so much because he expected a different Messiah. However, later on he would be astounded by the sacrifice that Christ made for him.

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  24. -Chris Thompson

    I believe that Paul did not depart from his Jewish heritage. In Polhill’s book he states that “Paul remained a Jew even as Christian (Polhill 26)”. Heritage is something that is passed down from the generations of the past to the future generations. Now if Paul were to of departed from his heritage why would he have observed the Pentecost in 1 Corinthians 6:8? If he were to of deserted his heritage he would have not observed any of the festivals of the Jews at all.

    The only thing that could been seen as departing from his heritage is the fact that he believed Christ is the messiah which not very many Jews believed he was. They expected something different than what Jesus actually came as here on earth.

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  25. Paul does not depart from his Jewish heritage at all. Sure many of the things that Paul teaches are radical in a way but they are all a way to share the Gospel of Christ. Now if you want a guy that is really radical Jesus is the guy. Paul does not specifically break any of God’s laws he just allows for those who are not of Israel to be accommodated into a culture that is not originally theirs. While circumcision was a great tool to show the measure of ones commitment and faith I think that for most in that day and age it was not as necessary because Christians were not well liked by the Jews and being persecuted by people like Paul before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul knew the The Old Testament like the back of his hand and he was very careful I think to find a ground on which gentiles could stand on in following Christ. And while Paul did this he did not forsake the law for himself but instead “remained a Jew even as a Christian” (Polhill, 26)

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  26. I believe that Paul did not turn away from his heritage; he simply realized that it is less important now that Christ died for our sins and took away the need to live by the Jewish law to be saved. Polhill points out that Paul redefined what it meant to be a Jew religiously. On page 25 Polhill writes, “The real descendant of Abraham is the person who shares the faith of Abraham, and this includes both Jews and Gentiles”. Paul recognizes that God looks at the heart of man. Being a Jew racially is not something to be ashamed of even though Paul counts this as rubbish in the grand scheme of things in Philippians 3:7-8.
    As Christians, we need to be sensitive to the fact that many people in America believe they are Christians because their family goes to church and because their parents brought them up with Christian values. Do we have the same agony that Paul did to see his fellow Jews reject having a personal relationship with Christ?

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  27. Paul never departed from his heritage. His heritage is what gave him authority to speak to his audiences. There is never a point in scripture when Paul departs from his heritage. In every place that Paul goes to he preaches to the Jews first then to the Gentiles. His gospel is heavily supported by Old Testament backing which he would have studied in great depth in his learning from Gamaliel. Paul proclaiming that he does not boast in his heritage and achievements is not equal to Paul departing from it. Rather, Paul embraces his heritage to gain authority when speaking to crowds and to show how even he, “the Hebrew of Hebrews”, counts all his gains as loss for the sake Christ (Philippians 3:8). This is a strong illustration of how no matter what you may have it is rubbish for the sake of Christ. The effectiveness of Paul’s ministry would have been nearly impossible if it were not for his heritage of both Greco-Roman influences and Jewish learning. I agree with Professor Long’s statement, “In some ways his theology is certainly radical, but perhaps not as radical as often assumed.” Paul’s theology was undeniably radical for the time, but his theology was also firmly grounded and rooted in the scriptures. Paul was perfect for the position that God used him for, he would not have been able to do it without his heritage, for without his heritage his theology has no foundation.

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  28. When I think of a Jew departing from their heritage my mind goes to the many non-practicing Jews who live in my area. In that comparison Paul did not depart from his Jewish roots. Just as Nate mentioned from the Polhill book, Paul “remained a Jew even as a Christian” (Polhill, 26). I know some people who are of the Christian faith and then realize that they are a Jew afterwards so they start participating many of the Jewish customs while they are a Christian. Paul did more than that, according to Galatians 1:14, he was fully passionate “for the traditions of his forefathers.” I’m not fully sure what that translates into for daily living but, it makes it sound like it was in the past and not happening in his present life. More physical indicators included the fact that he still participated in the Hebrew festivities, and held himself to the Nazarite vow. I’m not sure that I can make a judgement.

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  29. I really like that you added the part in Philippians 3 about what Paul says about the importance of his heritage because he is “in Christ”. I don’t think Paul departs from his Jewish heritage, but I don’t know if the other Jews would see it that way. I like what Chris said about the only thing out of the ordinary for Paul being that he believed in Christ. Most Jews stuck to their laws, and were still waiting on their messiah. Paul uses his roots and his experiences to reach others in every possible situation. As far as the authenticity of Paul being Jewish, I don’t see why he would lie about it. I mean I can see why, but I don’t think he would. With Paul’s testimony, and his admittance to everything that he had done wrong, I don’t think that would be kept a secret if it were false.

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  30. I’m not necessarily responding to any of the conversation listed above; however I am going to write about the question addressed. The question dealt with if Paul departs from his heritage. In chapter 1 of Polhil’s book, I find that Paul has three distinct parts to his heritage. (1) Paul was quite familiar with Hellinism, greek culture and greek language. (2) Paul was a Roman citizen, which is debated on how he attained his citizenship. (3) Paul also had a Jewish heritage, where he went to Jerusalem to study under Gamiliel. Throughout the reading Polhil does an excellent job of describing how these three aspects of Paul’s heritage contributes to his life and missionary journies to be the apostle to the gentiles. After reading Polhil I would say that Paul does not stray away from his heritage at all, rather his heritage is what propels his understanding of the Scriptures and this has a big role in his theology of his epistles.

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  31. The question whether Paul departed from his heritage is difficult. I believe there are definitely aspects that Paul departed from, but he has not fully separated himself from his Jewish heritage. Ty Cook says, “There is never a point in Scripture when Paul departs from his heritage.” I would have to disagree. I believe that Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus symbolizes departure. I believe that Paul must, in some respects, make a departure from his heritage because of his call from God. Because of Paul’s heritage, he spent his “pre-Christian life as a persecutor of the church” (Polhill 27).

    As I said above, I am not suggesting that Paul made a complete departure from his heritage. He even boasts of his heritage in 2 Cor. 11:22 when he says, “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are the Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.” I only argue that Paul is partially departed from his heritage because, in my opinion, it make his testimony and ministry stronger.

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    • You wrote:
      “Paul’s heart was always right….”

      Really? Always? Paul could never be wrong in anything he ever said or did, recorded in his biography by Luke in Acts? And in addition Paul was 100% right in everything he wrote about himself, and all his teachings, in his 13 letters that comprise 1/3 of the New Testament?

      Are you saying the words and deeds of Paul in our “New Testament” are equal to the words and deeds of Jesus, without sin, without error? Would you treat the narratives about the lives of Paul and Jesus the same way?

      Your view is essentially the same as what Muslims believe about Muhammad, and his words and deeds recorded in their “Scriptures” – that they can’t be questioned, and don’t need a second witness, because they are words of God and Muhammad never intentionally disobeyed “God”. In other words, his “heart was always right.”

      Muslims follow Muhammad the self-appointed Prophet
      Many Catholics follow their own version of “Mary”
      Many Evangelicals follow Paul the self-appointed Apostle.

      But we should be following the Lord God Jesus Christ (Yeshua) Son of Yahweh the Most High God of Israel. In other words, the Jesus of the 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark Luke & John) in the Christian Bible, who came fulfill the Law and the Prophets.

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      • My respectful apologies if this post was deemed excessive. Sometimes a picture (or perhaps a song) is worth 1000 words. I didn’t want to go on and on.

        Yet I am puzzled how “Bible-believing” people can sit by without questioning a clear statement of idolatry like this one. Other than Jesus, has there ever been, or will there ever be, one “special man” whose “heart was always right”? I don’t believe so. To quote Paul, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….”

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      • Phillip,
        Do you believe that after Paul’s “Damascus Road Experience,” “Paul’s heart was always right….” ?

        I know, theoretically, theologically, you would say “no of course not.”
        But specifically, can you give specific examples where Paul’s heart was NOT right? Sin is always specific, not general,

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      • I was really going to say “of course not.” But I would also make a distinction between Paul as a human and the letters of Paul preserved in Scripture. Back to canon, inspiration, etc.

        Obviously Paul said and did things that ticked people off and sometimes his methods caused problems (I am reading on 2 Corinthians right now, and Paul probably did not handle *that* situation well).

        Does anyone really think any of the people in the Bible other than Jesus always had a heart right with God? You are asking me to defend something Mark Vanderhoof said in a comment, you know that, right?

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      • I AM interested in conversation –
        I’m asking about where Paul DEFINITELY was wrong about something SPECIFIC.
        You responded:
        ” Paul probably did not handle *that* situation well”

        So you are “covering” for Paul 2 times over.
        First, “probably” (in other words, maybe, or maybe not)

        Second, using a vague, corporate-business-type phrase to avoid offending anybody and avoid taking a clear stand.
        “did not handle *that* situation well”

        We all agree the church in Corinth had degenerated into a fiasco when Paul wrote his 2 letters to them. Paul was basically the “founding pastor”, and he left after 18 months, went travelling again, then moved to Ephesus and set up his own school there , hundreds of miles across the sea from Corinth.

        Now years later, Paul is writing to them, as an absentee manager, controlling all aspects of church life, through a few letters. Could Paul be “hospitable” to the church in Corinth while living and working full-time in Ephesus for years? Do “Paul’s qualifications” for being an overseer / elder apply to everyone except Paul, since Paul is special?

        If the church has deep long-term serious problems, it is a failure of leadership. Who was leading the church in Corinth when Paul wrote his letters to them? What was that man’s name who was responsible? We are programmed not to think or ask that question – but the answer is obvious. Jumbo the elephant is dancing the Tango all over the living room, trampling everyone in sight, and tooting his own horn in our ears over and over. What is his name? I’ll give you a hint – in English it has 4 letters.

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