PAULWAS NOT A CHRISTIAN: A BOOK REVIEW
The book “Paul Was Not a Christian” by Pamela Eisenbaum sets outto bring a new perspective on Paul as being typically Jew. The book’sinteresting title attracts the attention of many readers with itsclear intention and contents. The title directs the readers to theaspects of Paul not being the founder of Christianity. The authorpicks the title to insinuate that Paul neither competed with Jesussuperstition of the Torah nor was he an ardent Jew convert. Thetitles intend to inform the audience that Paul was rather a dedicatedJew whose belief directed towards uniting the Jews with Jesus and theGentiles as a fulfillment of Gods plan for the whole community. Thetitle of this book thereby forms the central thesis that peopleshould view Paul as a Jew rather than as a Christian.
Eisenbaumbegins the first chapter of her book with a clarification that Paulwas a Jew as he was self-proclaimed in Galatians 1:23, 2:15. Sheconcludes the chapter stating that Paul is unmistakably Jewish inregards to ethics, culture, religion, moral and theology.1Paul had no intentions of finding a new religion as opposed toJudaism given that there was no such a conversion. The author arguesthat even after the event at Damascus, Paul retained his Jewishorigins. The author claims the book of Acts as the source ofmisunderstanding for Paul’s background because it demonstratesPaul’s encounter with Christ as a conversion rather than influenceto Christianity. The author proceeds to neither challenge the book ofActs stating that it does nor agree well with Paul’s epistles hisimage from Acts contrasts remarkably from his self-proclamation. Shedisregards the six disputed letters as a basis for understandingPaul’s identity due to their historical uncertainty.
The author continues in chapters three and four arguing that byrejecting the Torah, Paul did not abandon his Jewish origins, as hecontinued to be a truthful Jew. He did not have to abandon Judaismafter Christ’s call for the clerical tasks to the Gentiles. The NPPdoes not satisfy the author due to its numerous promoters thatcontinue to perceive Paul as the “Augustinian-Lutheran framework.”She goes beyond the NPP to depict the actual Paul by asserting thatTorah is not suitable to Gentile as his disagreement is on the standthat Divinity does not call for similar requirements for people atall times.2This statement forms the central argument of the book. The chaptersfive through to nine explain how Paul is covenantal with links totoday’s Judaism. In a systematic explanation of the title, theauthor points in chapter six that Paul’s reach to the Gentiles wasnot radical acts as Jews were traditionally hostile.
In the chapters, eight to nine Eisenbaum argues that Pauldemonstrates several traits of a Pharisee as applied in hisScriptures. She points out that Pharisees were flexible tointerpretations even though they maintained interpretive rules of theScriptures. Harding asserts Paul did not change his theological coreattributed to his experience with the resurrected Messiah, a pointthat makes a strong argument for the author’s assertions.3 She observes “the apocalyptic clock” as the only variance from atypical Pharisee.
Chapters ten to thirteen brings the author’s argument on Paul’sdeep-seated Jewish monotheism leading to his apostolic mission to theGentiles. She argues that his objective of trust is God rather thanChrist. According to Eisenbaum, Paul did not put Christ and God inthe same position. Besides, Paul’s commission was not to the Jewswho were already in the covenant but to the Gentiles, who had notreceived Christ and follow the Torah. She asserts that Paul’snecessity of time was the realization of Gentiles need of shortcut toGod’s covenant. The death of Christ, therefore, was included andwas meant for the Gentiles and not the Jews. In the final chapter,the author re-confirms her stand that Paul did not need conversionfrom one religion to another because salvation is universal and soPaul remains a typical Jew. She also names a new radical paradigmpositioning Paul as two-way salvation as put across by KristenStendhal.
The author manages to tackle difficult concepts for everyone tofollow easily at an overall level. The author is thoughtful to employE.P Sanders assistance to bring out and support her argument onJewish establishment of the covenant. She states that Jews arejustified for their involvement in the convention is deliverance, andso the Torah works as the guide to remain covenant and not an entry.4The Torah was, therefore, applicable to Israelites and not theGentiles. Eisenbaum makes a strong point in explaining Paul’surgency arising from his timeline eschatological understanding as anoutcome of encountering with Christ. It is agreeable that Paulattainment of his directive to give a sermon was owing to the eminentdanger of judgment. Besides, the author uses the Bible to support andexplain her position on the Gentiles need for Christ acceptance. Forinstance, she includes Romans 3:30 which states that God justifiesIsrael because of covenant faithfulness while He justifies theGentiles with Christ faithfulness.
The book`s central claim that Paul was not a Christian is notconvincing. First of all, it is agreeable that Paul is read as Jewthroughout and that will remain so because there is no reasonexplaining why he would change his identity after meeting withChrist. The book fails to acknowledge that Christianity is a subsetof Jewish religious beliefs and that Jesus along with his firstdisciples were Jews. However, the Jewish in them does not preventthem from being Christians. Eistenbaum fails to explain the two-waysalvation comprehensively she proposes towards the end of the book.While she discusses the challenges of Paul’s custom interpretationin Romans 2:12-13 she leaves out Romans 1:17-29 that argues againstthe Jews failure to obey the Torah. She claims that Jews arevindicated due to the covenant but the same Romans 3:20 states thatall flesh shall not be justified by law, and this includes the Jewsas well. Furthermore, the book cannot give the Jews an unlimited passwhen the discussion in Romans 9-11 prays for the salvation of all. IfJews had their special way of salvation, then Peter and Paul wouldnot have entrusted Galatians 2:7 calling for gospel and circumcision.Paul believes that Jews too need to put their faith in Jesus fordeliverance in Galatians 2:15-16 creating a sub-structure thatclimaxes in Jesus raising from the dead. In this regard the authorthesis becomes weak and, needs has to re-consideration in claimingher position on Paul.
All in all, this entire book is a significant contribution to theongoing theological discussions on Paul and the Jewish world. Itforms an excellent source of learning the ancient Judaism, the Jewscovenant and the monotheism. As much as it could be troubling formany Christian readers coming across the main arguments of the book,the author attempts to lift up pluralism in religion as inspired byPaul. According to the book, Paul had an incredible vision to showthe faithfulness of their tradition as well as extend it tonon-Jewish through the same faith in Christ that unites them.
Eisenbaum, Pamela Michelle. Paulwas not a Christian: The original message of a misunderstood apostle.New York: HarperOne, 2009.
Harding, Mark. Allthings to all cultures: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans.Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013.
1 1. Pamela Eisenbaum Michelle. Paul was not a Christian: The original message of a misunderstood apostle. New York: HarperOne, 2009, 9.
22. Ibid, 62
33. Mark Harding. All things to all cultures: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013, 16.
44. Pamela Eisenbaum Michelle. Paul was not a Christian , 91