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Perceptions of Compatibility Between Christianity and Judaism in Pauline Interpretation

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Contemporary interpretation of Paul is heir to a tradition of Paulinism in which Paul's gospel is almost universally viewed as being in opposition to Judaism. Even the advent of the New Perspective on Paul has not yet succeeded in convincing the majority of scholars that there is no basic incompatibility between Paul and Judaism. One reason for a negative response to the New Perspective is that the acceptance of this viewpoint seems (necessarily) to imply that the great Reformers were somewhat deficient in their understanding of Paul. Their own basic principle of 'reformed and always being reformed' demands, however, a critique of all traditions, including this one. Moreover, inasmuch as modern Pauline scholarship is dependent upon the 19th century invention of the theory of legalism as a pejorative description of Jewish religion, there is a resultant failure to view the Judaism that nurtured Paul, and in which he was continuously in dialogue, other than apologetically or polemically. This is because Christian Pauline interpretation tends to involve a concern for self-understanding and identity that necessarily differentiates the modern agenda from that of Paul, since this concern springs from Enlightenment categories and is therefore foreign to the Apostle. It is the contention of this essay that Paul's letters demonstrate that he was no sectarian, vilifying Judaism for the promotion of a new religion. Since Paul's identity, even after his vision of Christ, remained distinctly Jewish, scholars cannot justifiably use Judaism as a negative foil for Christian self-understanding. Christian faith as such demands neither the denigration of Judaism nor the subversion of Pauline theology into a subjective search for identity.


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