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As the question clearly describes.

Did Paul/Saul, during his era, teach Christianity with Jewish traditions to Gentiles like what we see in Messianic Judaism today?

Some background for this question:

I am (or maybe was) a Catholic, but I used to come to Protestant church with my friends. One day, I wondered why there was a lot denomination in Christianity.

So I took a step back, I forgot all about denomination for a moment (Catholic, Protestant, etc). I just believed that Jesus Christ is my Messiah. I read the bible from Genesis until Revelation and I realized that:

  1. Jesus is Jewish
  2. He practiced all of the Jewish traditions, including Chanukah
  3. He is the Living Torah.

And then I was looking for a denomination that still follows what Jesus did during His era. I think the the answer is Messianic Judaism.

This is one of a lot of my questions about my struggle to find about Christianity. But at first, I want to look back about the history how Paul/Saul taught about Jesus and Christianity to Jewish people and Gentiles during his era.

For now I am practicing Messianic Judaism even though I am a Gentile. I hope someone can answer the question so I can decide if I was in the right path for my beliefs or not.

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! For a quick overview of what this site is about, please take the Site Tour. This looks like an interesting question, though the usual view is just the opposite of what the question asks or suggests. Can you provide any background as to what prompted this question in your mind? I do hope you get some good answers. – Lee Woofenden Oct 11 '15 at 17:43
  • +Lee Woofenden, I already add a reason why I asked this question. Thank you. – squallbayu Oct 11 '15 at 19:06
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    Thanks for your question. I think there are two issues at play here, which honestly have little to do with each other. 1) Your original question asks whether Paul taught Christianity with Jewish traditions. 2) Your actual struggle is whether Messianic Judaism is "the right choice." These (probably) have nothing to do with each other. Paul could have said nothing about Messianic Judaism, and it could still be a valid choice. On the other hand, if you're asking if Messianic Judaism is the only valid choice, it's probably clear that the answer would be "no" according to most Christians (posslby… – Flimzy Oct 11 '15 at 19:16
  • …excluding Messianic Jews). – Flimzy Oct 11 '15 at 19:16
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    Paul lived during the time of Second Temple Judaism, which was at best only superficially like Rabbinic Judaism of the modern era. Judaism was built around performing sacrifices at the temple, so for example prayer was secondary. – Dick Harfield Oct 11 '15 at 20:27
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The overall goal of your question (determining if you were "in the right path for my beliefs or not") probably can't be sufficiently answered here as you'll find competing opinions according to different denominations and belief systems.

That being said, I can give a rudimentary summary of how each side approaches Paul's writings and let you choose for yourself.

Messianic Judaism

The general conclusion that Messianic Jews come to and the biggest difference between it and other teachings is that the Old Testament Law is every bit as binding and active as it was before Jesus' death/resurrection. Some of the most noticeable ways this plays itself out is in keeping the dietary laws, celebrating Jewish holidays, and celebrating the Lord's day on Saturday instead of Sunday (keeping the Sabbath). Their conclusion usually follows some form of this logic:

  • Jesus practiced the Law
  • Jesus increased the strictness of the Law (Matthew 5:21-30 for example)
  • Jesus says he came to fulfill the Law rather than abolish it (Matthew 5:17)
  • God doesn't change his mind (Numbers 23:19) therefore He wouldn't take away the Law

These principles cause them to claim that a lot of New Testament writings (mostly Paul's) about circumcision, diet, freedom, and the Law are misunderstood by "mainstream" Christianity.

Non-Jewish Christianity

I didn't know what to call this as it's intended to encompass most breeds of Christianity that aren't considered Messianic Judaism. There are so many different denominations and standpoints within them that it's important to note that this isn't the blanket, 100% standpoint of the "everyone else". That being said, most "mainstream" Christians believe that Jesus' death/resurrection satisfied the requirements of the Law, removing the binding nature of its commands for the Christian. Their conclusion generally follows this logic:

  • Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17)
  • Jesus' sacrifice in our place makes it no longer necessary to practice the sacrificial system outlined by the Law (Hebrews 10:10)
  • Peter chooses not to burden the Gentiles with Jewish Law (Acts 15:5-21)
  • Peter had a vision that nullified the dietary laws (Acts 10:9-16)
  • Paul speaks at length about circumcision not being necessary for Gentiles and stresses freedom in Christ. (Galatians 5 for example)
  • The author of Hebrews refers to the Old Covenant as "obsolete". (Hebrews 8:13)

Those principles cause these mainstream Christians to specifically ignore the old dietary laws, the sacrificial system, and things considered ceremonial or ritualistic laws (things like wearing clothes of two kinds of material in Leviticus 19). They focus more on what Jesus calls the 2 greatest commandments: loving God and loving people. They generally believe that the Old Testament laws still have a place in the Christian's life (providing context to moral laws, teaching history, and illustrating how difficult it is to follow the Law without Christ's intervention for example) but do not see them as binding post-Christ unless repeated in the New Testament. It's important to understand that I'm paraphrasing here and a lot of people hold differing views on the Law, especially as it relates to things like homosexuality).

To go back to your original question, "Did Paul/Saul, during his era, teach Christianity with Jewish traditions to Gentiles like what we see in Messianic Judaism today?", you'll likely get a different answer depending on which breed of Christian you ask.

To the Messianic Jew, Paul implicitly taught to keep Jewish Laws but explicitly stressed that they're not what saves a person, faith alone does that. To most other Christians, Paul taught freedom from the Jewish Laws (most prominently circumcision), the importance of loving God and others as our main form of worship, and warns that our freedom is not a blanket license to sin. They believe this plays itself out in a very different way than Messianic Jews claim.

As for personal belief, I subscribe to the "everyone else" notion. I believe Paul, Peter, and the author of Hebrews, for example, are extremely clear in their stances and an honest reading of the text illuminates those principles sufficiently. My aunt and uncle, on the other hand, swing the other way.

  • "Paul taught to keep Jewish Laws" The question then arises: which laws did he say to keep? – Steve Oct 14 '15 at 0:51
  • @Steve - That would be a question that I would ask as well... Romans 3:31 is the only thing I can think of off-hand which is a generic command to uphold the law rather than nullifying it. – TheIronCheek Oct 14 '15 at 12:46
  • @Steve - My personal argument would be that Romans 3:31 is at the end of Paul's argument that circumcision is unnecessary due to righteousness being gained through faith rather than by the Law. I think Messianic Jews tend to ignore these things. – TheIronCheek Oct 14 '15 at 12:58
  • Romans 7 shows us why the law was established: to demonstrate that all are sinners, not to make us righteous. See my answer on this page for more about this. – Steve Oct 16 '15 at 0:15
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1 Corinthians 9:20-22 (KJV)

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.

I think scripture is pretty clear on this topic. Paul did not force Torah on those that where not under it. He accommodated the culture, without compromising the truth.

Colossian 2:16-17 (KJV)

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

This works both ways. I see many "Christians" get angry if someone decides they want to try and follow Torah, celebrate the Feast of the Lord, etc. If someone wants to use the Torah as a guide of life there is no harm in that, as long as they know that they are saved by grace through faith through Jesus Christ. The danger of observing Torah, is that people start to become self righteous, and pride can settle in their hearts. This really depends on the person, and their relationship with the Lord, however going back to the original question. Paul was very adaptive with his culture, but firm in the Truth.

  • 1
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Actually, he had a specific use for the law for Jew and Gentile alike:

1 Timothy 1:8-10

But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;

In other words, you use the law on those who have turned away from faith and grace to trusting in their flesh or good works. You show them the law, that if they don't keep ALL of it, they are condemned by God (James 2:10). This helps them see their sin and repent.

As we see in Romans 7, the Law convicted Paul of sin in a similar way, and caused him to turn from the flesh and trust in Jesus:

Romans 7:6-7

But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet..

Context: Paul in the earlier part of Romans 7 (and Romans 6) has already told us that we are dead, so the law has no effect on us any more.

There are no explicit verses where Paul tells us that we are bound to the OT laws if we follow them with the expectation of being righteous before God. We see that plainly in Galatians 2:11-21, where Paul accuses Peter of siding with the strict, law-keeping Jews and not the grace of God, and saying that if he returned to the observing the law in order to practice righteous conduct, "then Christ died in vain." Strong words!

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Did Paul/Saul teach Christianity with Jewish traditions to Gentiles like what we see in Messianic Judaism today?

Early Christianity expected the immanent return of Jesus to establish the kingdom.

Acts 1:10-11 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

Paul expected to be alive when Jesus returned;

1 Thessalonians 4:17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

The Apostles had declared (binding of Matthew 16) the role of gentiles in the kingdom (which they all expected).

Acts 15:19-20 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

Since Paul was the apostle to the gentiles, his teaching would be consistent with bringing gentiles into Christianity for the work of the kingdom. We see a description of these kingdom practices given by Jesus;

Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Paul, even though he was bringing gentiles into the faith, was the first to limit the claims of those who would impose the law;

Galatians 3:1-3 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

Romans 14:5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Paul did not anticipate a 2,000 year delay in a faithful remnant of Israel receiving the kingdom. He may have been suspicious at the end of his ministry.

Acts 28:27-28 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.

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As an addendum to the above (and in particular user23782), the messianic Jew I knew, one of the leaders of a congregation near Tempe, AZ, seemed to act the way Paul did: not forcing Torah on those that where not under it. He was a wonderful man, by the way, being compassionate, kind, and able to preach and explain the gospel from the Old Testament.

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    Interesting, the only messianic Jew I talked to just rejected Pauls Teaching and was done with it. – kutschkem Jan 18 at 9:30
  • "Your mileage may vary". I wonder what the official position is? – rje Jan 21 at 15:12

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