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I’m doing some research about early Christianity, specifically looking into the circumstances of the divergence between Judaism and Christianity as two very distinct religions as we know them today. It seems Paul had a very remarkable role in shifting the Christian faith into a more Gentile and independent religion rather than enforcing Mosaic laws.

Since Paul is considered the Apostle to the Gentiles, did Paul continue to consider himself a Jew after conversion?

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    I believe this question is answerable in its current form. Whether or not Paul considered himself to still be a Jew after his conversion is a reasonably objective question quite unlike asking whether he was some kind of sufficiently zealous, true, or otherwise True Scotsman version of a Jew. This formulation omits questions such as whether Gaius the Centurion or Solomon the tailor considered him a Jew, whether he followed a specific set of practices or held to a specific set of beliefs that you consider fundamental to being Jewish, etc. Commented May 30 at 23:03
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    A simple answer better as a mere comment. Paul says “ For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.” Rom 2:28, So although he does recognize that he is a Jew ethnically as separated from Gentiles, and that with some benefits (Rom 3:2) but he does not consider other Jews ‘real Jews’ unless they also have faith in Christ and become one genuinely.
    – Mike
    Commented May 31 at 3:56
  • Since Gentiles are adopted in the family of Jews, it wouldn't make much sense for Paul to be a no-longer-Jewish-Gentile-adopted-into-the-family.
    – FreeMan
    Commented May 31 at 16:55
  • @FreeMan Well it seems that "adopted in the family" concept was very unique to Paul and it was pretty strange even to Peter and Barnabas. For example in Antioch incident, Peter (and later Barnabas) refused to even share a meal with Gentiles, which shows how they were divided about the Gentiles-Jews unity concept. Commented May 31 at 17:58

6 Answers 6

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I'll offer a response broken into 2 sections:

  1. Was Paul a Jew?
  2. If yes, what kind of Jew?

1. Was Paul a Jew?


There is a risk here of imposing anachronisms on Paul: we are accustomed to thinking of Judaism & Christianity as separate and distinct entities; this was not the case during Paul's lifetime.

To Paul and his contemporaries, one could be both a Jew and a Christian and there was no inherent contradiction (for example, see Acts 18:2 in which Aquila, a Christian, is referred to as a Jew). The full separation of Judaism & Christianity into distinct religions did not happen until the Flavian era (70s-90s), and was closely tied to the destruction of Jerusalem (source).

Paul makes it very clear that he is a Jew:

Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5)

(note that verse 7 does not say he gave up these parts of his identity, but that he gave up some advantages these attributes might otherwise have given him)

Although there was substantial effort in 19th & early 20th century German scholarship to argue that Jesus and those close to Him were not Jews, this was more a political move than anything else. Jesus, Peter, Paul, and almost every major character in the New Testament were Jews. They were born Jews, they received a Jewish education (to varying degrees), their teachings are culturally Jewish, and they relied heavily upon the Jewish scriptures.

Yes, Paul was a Jew.


2. What kind of Jew?


Josephus records that there were 4 principal sects/philosophies of Judaism in the late 2nd-temple era:

  • Pharisees
  • Sadducees
  • Essenes
  • Zealots

(These could certainly be sub-categorized further. For Josephus references, see e.g. Antiquities 18.1.1-6).

Paul certainly was not a Sadducee, Essene, or Zealot. The Pharisaic views of the 1st century were not monolithic--plenty of in-house debate there--but I will make the case below that Paul had no reason to stop identifying as a Pharisee. Some Pharisees accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but many (leaders in particular) did not.

Paul's claim in Philippians "as touching the law, a Pharisee" can be read to mean that he identifies as a Pharisee and/or he was educated as a Pharisee (like someone today may claim to be a X_University-ite not because they currently attend, but because they received an education there); it does not mean that he accepts all statements made by the leaders of the Pharisees.

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Perjury is a bad strategy

Paul is on trial (Acts 22:30) and his prosecutors are out for blood (Acts 22:22). If he makes a statement that can be falsified, he can be charged under both Jewish (Leviticus 19:11) & Roman law (Paul on Trial p.156).

By highlighting a difference in the theological views among his accusers (Pharisees & Sadducees) he gives himself a way out...but also goes on record in a court of law--a record to which his accusers will have access (ibid p. 156) when they try to impeach/discredit his testimony later (Acts 24:1-2).

Now that Paul is on record declaring himself a Pharisee, if there's a viable means of showing that testimony to be false, Tertullus can show Paul to have perjured himself when he accuses Paul in Acts 24 (see vss. 5,6,9)

Matters of in-house debate among Pharisees won't be too helpful to Tertullus et al here (e.g. varying levels of rigidity in interpreting the law), but the salient differences among the Jewish sects would. Luke calls out the most relevant differences in verse 8: the afterlife & non-mortal beings.

Paul's teachings are well-known and widespread (see Acts 24:5); if he's been preaching something that is a clear departure from Pharisaic views on the contested matter of the afterlife, the Sanhedrin can paint him into a corner. "I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question" (verse 6) is a very risky thing to say in front of the authorities on Pharisaic doctrine. To get away with this (no accusations against Paul on this matter are raised before the Sanhedrin or in the appeal before Felix), Paul's Pharisaic credentials must be as impeccable as he himself suggests when writing to the Philippians a few years later (see above).

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Paul's teachings

Paul's letters support his testimony of his Pharisaic credentials. He regularly quotes from the Writings & the Prophets. Origen of Alexandria reported that:

the Samaritans and Sadducees...receive the books of Moses alone (Contra Celsum 1.49)

Others suggest that perhaps the Sadducees held the Torah in a place of greater honor not afforded to the Writings & the Prophets, but still used most/all of them. Either way, Paul's extensive usage of the Tanakh (not just limiting himself to the Torah) suggests a Pharisaic leaning well after his conversion to Christ.

Indeed, Paul's method was to start proselyting in a city by going to the synagogue and teaching the message of the Messiah from the Jewish scriptures (see Acts 17:1-2, 18:4-6). Paul saw Jesus as the fulfilment of Old Testament promises, not the destruction of them.

There is no statement from him or his enemies suggesting that belief ever changed or engendered conflict.

Under Roman Law, Judaism had the significant distinction of "religio licita" (legal religion), a privilege granted only to the Jews & its own (Roman) Pantheon of gods (Paul on Trial p.13). In order for Christianity to receive these legal benefits it was necessary to present it as part of Judaism (or as the true Judaism), not a separation from it.

The litigation strategy of Paul's accusers was to charge that he was creating an illegal religion thereby disrupting society. Although Christianity had a persuasive claim to legality as a sect of Judaism, it was caught in the cross-currents between Jerusalem and Rome. In the midst of this legal/political/religious cauldron, Acts was written (ibid pp. 13-14).

If Paul has taught (or can credibly be accused of teaching) a view of the spiritual realm foreign to all major sects of contemporary Judaism, Paul (and Luke) have no religio licita leg to stand on.

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Reductive Argument

Paul was familiar with the teachings of the Pharisees--if there were points of disagreement between him and them, they would have featured regularly in settings such as Acts 19:8-10. Paul's letters give us a pretty good idea what the controversies were in the churches he wrote to, and disputes of Pharisaic teachings do not feature prominently at all.

If Paul's history as a Pharisee led to doubts about his sincerity as a Christian, Paul's failure to guard against this, combined with statements like those found in Philippians 3:5-7 & Galatians 2:2-15, would be absurd.

--

Inductive Argument

  • Paul was the son of a Pharisee
  • Paul studied under Gamaliel
  • Paul presents himself as a Pharisee while on trial before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23)
  • Paul presents himself as a Pharisee when writing to the Philippians (Phil. 3) -- not a brilliant move if this is a claim that already got him into trouble in Jerusalem and/or Caesarea
  • Conclusion: the written record supports the claim that Paul never stopped being a Pharisee.

--

Abductive Argument

Paul's enemies wanted him dead, and catching him in perjured testimony before the Sanhedrin would have been devastating to Paul's case. I suggest that the inference to the best explanation is that Paul's enemies didn't use this tactic because there was no evidence of perjury: Paul's claim to be a Pharisee was incontrovertible.


Conclusion


Yes, Paul still really was a Pharisaic Jew. He was also a Christian; during his lifetime these were not mutually exclusive. In claiming this, Paul would not be expected to agree with all of the teachings of the leaders of the Jews any more than they were expected to agree with each other.

If he wasn't a Pharisee, he has nothing to gain by claiming--during a trial--that he is. If Paul's identity as a Pharisee were a point of controversy, we should reasonably expect this to come up in his letters, especially in his letter to the Romans wherein he introduces himself to this audience and corrects against misleading statements they've heard about him.

Paul's letters are "occasional" documents--they were written to respond to specific controversies and questions, not to preach Christian theology from the ground up (he may at times appear less Jewish here when he's speaking to Gentiles and applying the method he describes in 1 Cor. 9). Paul's Jewish credentials do not appear to have been one of these controversies that needed to be addressed.

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    This should be the accepted answer. When Paul says "there is neither Jew nor Greek" in Gal 3:28-29, and when Paul emphasize reconciliation of both groups through Christ in Eph 2:11-18, the ethnic identity is STILL separate but through Jesus both have access to the Father by one Spirit (Eph 2:18). So Paul is BOTH Jew and Christian to be distinguished with Jews who don't want to be united with Christ, where they remain ethnic Jew practicing whatever "denomination" they belong to (Pharisee, Essenes, etc.). Commented May 30 at 18:25
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    @MithridatestheGreat I'm tempted to ask a follow-up question "Did Jesus remain a Jew even after his resurrection / ascension?" I have my answer in mind, but a little afraid to stir the pot. Commented May 30 at 18:45
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    @MithridatestheGreat "he might understood after his resurrection that he has no place in the Jewish community." I don't think Christians believe this, since if Paul's hope for a united Jewish + Gentile Christians is realistic, it should be based on God's hope as well. That means the human body of God (i.e. Jesus) remains bodily in heaven so Jews and Gentiles on earth who both can potentially become Christian can be united with Jesus as head of humanity. The question is whether race / ethnicity a bodily property? If yes, then Jesus (in his human nature) remains Jewish in heaven. If no, then no. Commented May 30 at 19:07
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    @MithridatestheGreat Jesus had 12 apostles, but a great many disciples. The 12 were his closest students and companions, but the Gospels make it clear that there were many others who believed in him and even followed him. Mattias and Joseph Barsabbas/Justus, the proposed replacements for Judas for example Commented May 30 at 19:24
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    They're separate: Romans 11:25-28 "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. 26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. 28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father's sakes." Commented May 30 at 23:00
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It is certainly true that "Paul had a very remarkable role in shifting the Christian faith into a more Gentile and independent religion rather than enforcing Mosaic laws." However, the reason why this shift happened requires consideration of events recorded in the book of Acts.

The apostle Peter played a large part in sharing Christianity with Gentiles. From chapter 10 verse 1 to chapter 11 verse 25 we read of the God-given vision he received to start sharing the gospel with the non-Jew, Cornelius, and how this led to the conversion of many Gentiles to Christianity. This shows the good effect of the persecution being suffered: see Acts 11:17-19

"Forasmuch then as God gave them [the Gentiles] the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen [which Saul supported, being a zealous Jew] travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch..." Acts 11:19 J.K.V.

But when the synagogues started to close their doors to Christians, more outreach was made to Gentiles. Saul, now Paul, started to become prominent in this outreach. See Acts 13:42-48. Verse 46 states Paul's reason for turning to the Gentiles, and it's not what the question supposes:

"It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you [the Jews] but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light to the gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth." Acts 13:46-47 K.J.V. [quoting Isaiah 49:6]

Now check out chapter 15 when some men from Jerusalem arrived, insisting that new Gentile converts to Christianity be circumcised (otherwise, they could not be saved!) This resulted in much debate and a decision being pronounced from the apostles in Jerusalem. Read from verse 7 to 30 - too much to copy here. This attempt to get Gentiles obliged to keep the Mosaic laws failed because Christianity is all about the law having been fulfilled in Christ, and the grace of God in the gospel dealing with sin. The law only ever condemned sinners, and showed that everyone trying to keep it failed, because they were sinners. The argument Christians used at that time (which holds good to this very day) is that Christians have been liberated from the condemnation of the law, and the chains of sin smashed. They are now free in Christ to serve God in newness of life. Why would they ever go back to bondage to the law?

The answer to the original question, "Did Paul remain a very zealous Jew even after his... change on his way to Damascus?" is a resounding "No." Yet his heart's longing remained for his people, the Jews, that they too would be converted to faith in Christ. Read Romans chapter 9:1 to 11:12. You may be sure, however, that his teaching on being saved by faith in Christ, and not by trying to keep the Mosaic law (Romans 1 to 9), would ensure his total ostracism from the Jews.

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    +1 This is actually the best answer, though I am not sure how it addressed that Paul was still a self proclaimed Pharisee during Acts. At the time when Paul claimed he was a Pharisee he still had genuine Pharisee roots and upbringing and NOT YET fully rejected by all the other Pharisees. Paul believed that ‘ a real Jew was one inwardly not just by ethnicity’ Rom 2:28. So yes during the time in acts he could still say he was a Pharisee but the break in the faith had already occurred and the majority of Pharisees would soon no longer be viewed as ‘real Jews’ in Pauls mind.
    – Mike
    Commented May 31 at 4:18
  • @Mike The Q said nothing about Paul saying he was a Pharisee (throughout the book of Acts). That's why I never mentioned it! He had qualified as a Pharisee and practiced zealously as a Pharisee but after conversion changed his practices based on faith in the Jewish Messiah having come. His qualifications remained. Maybe a bit like a qualified Barrister? Once called to the Bar they have to then adjust to new laws brought in. They might disagree with them and stop practicing as before, but they remain qualified Barristers. Paul had to stop previous legalism due to faith in Christ.
    – Anne
    Commented May 31 at 11:53
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    @Mike To the Jew he became a Jew. To the Gentile, like a Gentile. He emphasized his Pharisee upbringing to some and not at all to others so that none would feel excluded from the Gospel invitation. Commented May 31 at 16:49
  • Yes you’re correct I had read the highest voted answer first and how it based it argument all from this little detail. I then considered that it may be implied by the way the question was formed. But actually it isn’t part of the question. Its just a side detail.
    – Mike
    Commented Jun 1 at 0:12
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    @MikeBorden - all would agree with you.
    – Mike
    Commented Jun 1 at 0:12
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Did Paul remain a Jew after his Conversion?

Before Before his conversion, Paul was an ethnic Jew, raised in the culture of first century Judaism (rabbinism). He ate kosher food, refrained from contact with "unclean gentiles", sang Jewish songs, etc.

Paul was also a religious Jew who observed the Law after the fashion of sect of Pharisees...kept the Sabbath...practiced circumcism...went to the rabbinical schools (seminaries)...and showed no tolerance for aberrant sects and heretics---especially those who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah! (Acts 24, Galatians 1-2)

After After his Conversion, Paul was still an ethnic Jew. A person cannot change one's DNA. And Paul died a Jew. (Albeit, a Jew with Roman citizenship.)

However, one cannot say that Paul remained a strict observant religious Jew. Although he did not relinquish his up-bringing in the rabbi's schools, he did what no "true Pharisaical Jew " would do---he accepted the Messiahship of Jesus! He became a disciple of "The Way", a follower of the "Nazarene." To gain a hearing at arrests and trials, Paul referred to his previous membership in the Pharisee sect.

But he emphatically mentioned his acceptance of Jesus as Messiah who, he claimed, fulfilled the Tanakh prophecies about a "Coming One." The lowly Nazarene was the "Son of David" whom all observant Jews expected with abated breath! This was "the straw that broke the camel's back." Paul was considered an outcast by the Jerusalem priests and rabbis.

Even though Paul diligently avowed that what he was teaching was in line with what the Scriptures foretold, he was expelled as personna non-grata. Perhaps it was also because he went a bit further, and declared that the Promises to Abraham (Genesis 12) was being fulfilled by the Gospel of Jesus: the inclusion of the Gentiles (nations; ethnics Gk.) in this religion!

Paul, and Silas, demonstrated to the Jewish Apostles, that there was to be no wall of separation between Jews and Ethnics. (Acts 15, Ephesians 2) The Messianic Gospel was to show absolutely no distinction---no favoritism (KJV). Circumcism was to be of the heart only, not the flesh. And Peter later wrote that all Christians from every nation were the "chosen people, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, etc." (1 Peter)

In this sense Paul did not remain a religious Jew, as the rabbis defined Judaism. He was a Christian. But we quickly add that in order to leave an open door for ministry to the Jewish people whom he still had a heart for, Paul did observe some Jewish rituals (vows, festivals). He even had Timothy circumcised to gain acceptance by Jewish synagogues to facilitate preaching there. BUT this was not to succomb to Mosaic ritual as a necessity for all Christians, it was just a convenience for ministry sake. To the Jew first, and to the nations.

Conclusion Paul used his past, as a disciple of the stringent rabbis, to maintain contact with his Jewish religious acquaintances. But as a Messianic Christian he was no longer considered a true religious Jew---just a heretic. He was a member of the Way.

But as an ethnic, a native, Paul would certainly have lived and died a Jew.

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    +1 for noting the difference between ethnic and religious Jewishness.
    – Jed Schaaf
    Commented May 31 at 3:38
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    The difficulty with this is that Paul says he continued to follow Pharisee law (the key point being their interpretation of Jewish purity laws outside the Temple, where the Sadducees had a more Temple-focused and written-Torah-based attitude to the laws). So from his perspective he remained a religious Jew throughout.
    – Henry
    Commented May 31 at 10:23
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    @ Henry - Thanks for the reply. Indeed, Paul observed Jewish religion practices so that ..."he became a Jew to win the Jews, and a Gentile to win the Gentile's"... BUT we cannot leave out an important adjective---he was a "Messianic" Jew. And to the Pharisees (and Saducees) that disqualified Paul from being a true rabbinical Jew! Paul may have legitimately considered himself a religious Jew, with the understanding that the prophecies found their fulfilment in Christ but that understanding was enough for rabbinical Judaism to ostrasize him so that he was no longer a valid religious Jew.
    – ray grant
    Commented May 31 at 20:19
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No.

Galatians 1:11-16

But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. 12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: 14 And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, 16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:

Paul was commanded by Christ ascended to go to the Jew first, and when they would not listen, to then turn to the Gentiles. He was appointed to be the "apostle to the Gentiles" to preach the gospel of God's grace (Christ crucified) for the one true current church, the body of Christ. Paul went to the synagogues to by all means "gain some" over from their proud religion, to having faith alone in Christ alone (1 Corinthians 9:23, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Ephesians 2:8-9).

1 Corinthians 9:18-23

What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. 19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. 20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; 21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. 22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

Paul even refers to "the Jews' religion" below as if it is now a thing of the past to him:

Galatians 1:11-14

But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. 12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: 14 And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.

Paul makes clear that the gain he profited from being a Pharisee is nothing but "dung" now that he understands what he has been spiritually gifted through Christ:

Philippians 3:4-8

Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

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    Please edit this to explain how you think these verses answer the question. Their relevance is not completely obvious.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 31 at 13:41
  • @curiousdannii I'm not sure that I can expand on Paul calling the gain from his religious acts of self-righteousness "dung". Commented May 31 at 14:20
  • And the other passages?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 31 at 21:36
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    Sure, each passage "speaks for itself", or God speaks through them. But we all read them and notice different things in them. So on this site, you need to explain the passages you present because you cannot assume people will read them how you do. So, please explain the relevance of every passage you're quoting here.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 31 at 23:48
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    @curiousdannii I will do that. May I have 48 hours? Thank you for your explanation! Commented May 31 at 23:52
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It appears the OP question has been rescoped. So, I'll answer again. Perhaps others will too.

OP: It seems Paul had a very remarkable role in shifting the Christian faith into a more Gentile and independent religion rather than enforcing Mosaic laws.

The assumption in this sentence is that the Mosaic Law was the "Christian faith" before Paul's conversion. Such was not the case. It is true, however, that the "Christian faith" started before the Mosaic Law was given.

As my previous answer touched on, the religion in question was established thousands of years prior. The nations/Gentiles, including the offspring of Abraham to Isaac to Jacob from whom came the Jews, were always part of the plan.

And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. Gen 22:18

And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. Gal 3:8

The other factor in this assumption is works vs grace (the declaration of being righteous in God's eyes).

And he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. Gen 15:6

Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Gal 3:6

This was about his Seed, Jesus Christ.

In short, what came to be called Christianity had existed long before the Mosaic Law (or say Jewish religion) in the fact of belief-righteousness and all nations, not only one (with the assumption of having to join that one for salvation by works).

OP: Since Paul is considered the Apostle to the Gentiles, did Paul continue to consider himself a Jew after conversion?

Yes. As others have pointed out, one's ethnicity is yours regardless of your religion. Paul was born of a Jewish mother, of the tribe of Benjamin. Those of Benjamine and Judah of the southern tribes came to be identified as Jewish.

Some will argue that following the Mosaic Law makes one Jewish, but this assertion is fraught with problems, not the least of which is 70AD.

So, even as Paul was sent to the Gentiles, so too had been the twelve. It just took a little "pushing out the door".

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Mat 28:19

The blessing to all by faith (belief) in what God said/did has been there for thousands of years.

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Did Paul remain a Jew even after his conversion?

The short answer is yes. But the affirmative response needs some explication.

St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles was definitely Jewish after his conversion.

  • St. Paul was born into a Jewish heritage and Jewish ancestry.

  • St. Paul was a Pharisee and admitted as much.

  • St. Paul was a traditional Jew and remained so.

  • As a true son of Abraham, St. Paul became a believer in the Jesus (a Jew) called the Christ, who in actuality fulfilled the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.

  • St. Paul believed that Jesus was the Christ and King of Kings both of the Jewish people and the Gentile nations. Jesus was King of the line of David.

  • The Sanhedrin could only bring charges against St. Paul in the Book of Acts because of the unique reason that St. Paul was in fact Jewish. A claim he never renounced, even though he eventually invoked the fact that he was a Roman citizen, which his father brought at a great price.

  • St. Paul like a true follower of Judaism would never accept a non-Jewish messiah.

There is a short answer to this: yes, clearly Paul was Jewish. Nothing we have in the historical record of any reliability would call this into question. Although he was from Tarsus (according to Acts), he was born to a Jewish family with a history of Pharisaism. Paul was Jewish before and after Jesus (Damascus Road experience). He continued to practice the Laws and customs of his people, at least to some extent.Really, what people often want to know is a slightly different question: Did Paul remain Jewish after his transforming experience of the resurrected Jesus? Scholars disagree about how best to think about the nature of Paul's Judaism after Jesus. There are several approaches.

Paul's Jewishness in Scholarship

This is a complex question that has been answered in numerous ways. First, no major school of thought (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran/Reformed, New Perspective, Apocalyptic, New Perspective or Paul within Judaism) makes any claim that Paul forfeited his ethnic identity. Clearly, such a thought would be ridiculous. Paul even lists his Jewish credentials on several occasions (Galatians 1, Philippians 3, etc.). Sure, there may be some sort of odd conspiracy theories that float around about his identity, but no responsible scholar would every make this claim. How ethnicity is defined in the ancient world could be debated, but what "we mean" by this is that Paul remained essentially Jewish (at the bare minimum). However, depending on one's school of thought, his practice and self-identification with the application of his Jewishness to life, differs.

The "Traditional" Paul

For the "traditional Paul" (here, think of Catholic and Reformed views, although there are some differences that aren't worth highlighting here), Paul experienced a clear "conversion" on the Damascus Road. Therefore, when Paul began following Christ, he preached that the Law was no longer needed as a measure for righteousness. Christ is that righteousness perfected, and imputed on the status of every Christian. In other words, from this view (in a broad sense), the Law is about "merit-based" salvation but grace grants salvation based solely on the merits of Jesus Christ and his imputed righteousness, thus Christianity (salvation by grace) has superseded/replaced Judaism ("works righteousness"). This view pins the Law against grace.

The New Perspective on Paul

For the New Perspective on Paul, which includes scholars such as E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn, Jewish practices such as circumcision and following dietary law were never meant as a means to earning salvation. This is a unfortunate misunderstanding about the beliefs of Judaism and the purposes of Second Temple practices. Ancient Judaism was always a religion of grace, with the laws functioning as ways of belonging and remaining within the covenant (community) as a means of assurance--not earning. But the reason Paul preached against circumcision was because in Christ, the national-specific boundary markers (badges of membership) have been relativized for the sake of unity between Jews and Gentiles. So, Jews who followed Jesus had greater flexibility with the Torah (in continuity with Ancient Judaism, not in discontinuity) to make it possible for gentiles to sit in unity with them under Christ. In other words, being a member of God's covenantal family through the Law was always experienced as grace for Jews, but with the coming of the faithful messiah, all Jewish specific boundary markers have been relativized in order to swing wide the doors for the graceful entry of the Gentiles, thus Christianity is in continuity with Judaism.

"Radical" New Perspective (Paul within Judaism)

A third approach comes broadly in what is called Paul within Judaism or the Radical New Perspective. Important scholars who have shaped this emerging school of thought include: Lloyd Gaston, John Gager, Stanley Stowers, Neil Elliott, Mark Nanos, and Pamela Eisenbaum.They are in full agreement that the Torah (Law) was a gift of God's grace. They also reject the idea of the "works righteousness" as the key issue Paul is addressing regarding Judaism.This view is driven by Paul's end time expectation that the nations would be gathered to worship Israel's God, distinctly as "the nations" (thus, conversion to Judaism is a big problem for Paul, etc.). Paul's letters are viewed as written almost exclusively with the gentiles in mind, and so his negative rhetoric about the Law is directed solely at them. This is a key difference from the New Perspective which relativizes the Torah to the point where it seems that Jews are no longer in need of upholding much of it. However, Paul within Judaism notes that the positive applications of the Torah are typically directed toward Jewish Jesus followers like Paul.So, to summarize: Paul upheld the goodness of the Law and all of his negative rhetoric about Jewish practices was directed at his Gentile audience only, therefore non-Jewish followers of Jesus fulfill end times expectations that the nations would worship Israel’s God as distinct peoples (i.e. no circumcision, etc.). Thus, Christianity and Judaism are two distinct tracks into God’s covenantal family.

Nuances in Paul Within Judaism

There are nuances to how these tracks work out. Some say that Paul had nothing to preach to Judaism except that they should be glad that God had acted afresh in human history. In raising Jesus, God launched the end of the age that Pharisaic Judaism longed for. Others, myself included, would note that Paul wanted all of his Jewish sisters and brothers to incorporate the way of the Messiah into their Torah observance. This would mean a radical re-working of Torah (especially as it pertains to violence, since Jesus added "love your enemies" to the command to "love your neighbors"). That would not, however, mean the end of Torah obedience. God, in Jesus, had been faithful on behalf of all Israel.In the end, Jesus will be the pathway to faithful Israel's being included in the new creation (Romans 9-11), but there is no inherent criticism of Jewish practice, even for Jesus followers, unless of course someone isn't Jewish. Paul clearly was Jewish, and from this view, remained a Pharisee who adapted his vision of Judaism to adapt to the way of Jesus.

Conclusion

So, was Paul really Jewish. Yes. Did he continue practicing all of the "religious" practices of his people? Depends on your school of thought. The New and Radical New Perspectives seem to have the best assessment of Second Temple Judaism as a religion of grace. Perhaps in a version or blend of these views we might get closer to the historical Jewishness of the Apostle Paul.

Was the Apostle Paul Jewish Before and After Jesus?

The following articles may be of interest to some:

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