Was Paul a Christian or a Jew?

In the book of Acts, Chapter 9, in nearly every Bible that has a heading over the chapter, they call this chapter “Paul’s Conversion to Christianity”.

But was he ever, really, a Christian?

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The answer needs to be prefaced with the fact that there were no “Christians” during the time that Shaul (Paul) was persecuting the believing Jews. The only people at that time who were accepting Yeshua as their Messiah were Jews- there was no contact with the Gentiles, there were no Christians, there were no churches, there was no Christmas or Easter, there was no rule about not eating meat on Friday, the Shabbat was Friday night to Saturday night, there was no Sunday confession- none of that would exist as we know it today until hundreds of years later.

The Gentiles weren’t even a consideration when it came to Yeshua’s teachings or salvation until after Kefa (Peter) had the vision on the rooftop and went to the house of the Roman officer, Cornelius (Acts 10). It is assumed this happened maybe 7-8 years after Yeshua’s resurrection; Shaul’s vision of Yeshua was around the same time that Kefa had his vision on the rooftop, circa 36 A.D. So, as Kefa was given the OK to approach Gentiles, Shaul was being slapped upside the head so he could accept Yeshua and he (as stated in Acts) always went to the synagogues when he entered a town.

His first letter wasn’t written until some 12 years later, to the Galatians.

If you look him up on Wikipedia, it will tell you:

“Paul (previously called Saul of Tarsus; c. 5 – c. 64/65 AD), commonly known as Paul the Apostle and Saint Paul, was a Christian apostle who spread the teachings of Jesus in the first-century world.”

And though I find Wikipedia to be a good research source, in this case they are dead wrong, repeating the Christian desire to remove Shaul from his true Jewish persona, and rebrand him as a Christian.

But the truth is Shaul never was a Christian, and never even changed his name- that was a Greek translation of his Hebrew name, and I seriously doubt anyone, ever, called him “Paul” during his lifetime, just like no one ever called Yeshua “Jesus.”

The truth is Shaul never converted to Christianity (which, as we know, didn’t even exist then)- the fact is he remained a Pharisee, a “Jews’ Jew”, all his life.

And if you don’t want to believe me, then let’s see the way Shaul identified himself to others.

In Acts 21, in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) Shaul is accused by the Jews of teaching to ignore the Torah. The Elders ask him to prove he is still a practicing Jew by observing the Torah requirement regarding taking an oath, which he does, proving he is still a Torah-observant Jew.

At the end of this chapter, and in the beginning of Acts 22, Shaul is making a defense for himself in front of the Jewish population of Yerushalayim. In Acts 21:39, he tells the Roman Commander that he is a Jew from Tarsus, and when he talks to the people, he tells them he is a Jew, born in Tarsus and trained under Gamaliel.

When he wrote to the Philippians (Philippians 3:5-6), he told them that he is a Jew, given B’rit Milah (circumcision) on the 8th day, by birth belonging to Israel, from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew-speaker with Hebrew-speaking parents, with regard to the Torah, a Parush (Pharisee), who zealously persecuted the Messianic Jews, and with regard to legalistic observance with the Torah, he was blameless.

Know this: he wrote that letter at the END of his life, while he was a prisoner in Rome, so it is clear that throughout his life, all during the time he was a missionary throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, he remained a Torah observant Jew.

Another letter he wrote, which was some 18 years after he first became a Believing Jew, was to the Corinthians. In that letter, (Corinthians 11:22) he states that as far as other people boasting about their right to be an apostle, he has more of a right to do that: he says he is also a Hebrew-speaker (remember only Jews spoke Hebrew), he says he is also a person of Israel, and he says he is also a descendant of Abraham.

In Ephesians 3:8 (written while a prisoner in Rome, near the end of his life), Shaul tells the congregation there that he is a prisoner on behalf of “you Gentiles” and later states he is one of God’s holy people; in both of these statements he is clearly separating himself from Gentiles, identifying as a Jew.

Time Out: it is important that you understand the Jewish mindset: there are not a lot of different religions, there is simply us and them. The word “Goyim” means “nations”, and for a Jew, especially back in those days, there were only two kinds of people in the world: Jews, and everyone else. So, anytime Shaul, in any way whatsoever, indicates he is separate from the Gentiles, he is stating he identifies as a Jew.

One last proof: reading the letters Shaul wrote, in nearly every single one of them you will find that he always goes to the synagogues the moment he comes into town. He states in Romans 1:16 that the message of the Good News of salvation through Messiah Yeshua was to go to the Jew first, then the Gentile. Shaul was a Jew, taking the Good News to his own people first, then to the rest of the world.

There you have it: Shaul was a Jew, never converted to anything, always observed the Torah, and never taught to ignore the Torah but simply that Gentiles did not have to convert to a Torah-observant lifestyle “cold turkey” the moment they accepted Yeshua as their Messiah.

This is what’s so ironic: traditional Christian teaching is that during the First Century the Jews were converting to Christianity, but the truth is that the pagan Gentiles were converting to Judaism.

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That’s it for this week, so l’hitraot and (an early) Shabbat Shalom!

The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- Romans (Part 2)

Now we come to Chapter 11, which is one of the most ignored chapters, if you ask me, by traditional Christian teachings.

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The main theme of this chapter is that even though God cut off from the Tree of Life the natural branches (the Jewish people rejecting Messiah), which allowed the wild branches (the Gentiles) to be grafted in, they need to remember that they are not supporting the root, but the root is supporting them (Romans 11:18). And if God was willing to prune the natural branches, how much more so will he be willing to prune those who were not of the tree, in the first place? Therefore, the Gentiles in Messiah should never become arrogant.

May I share something personal with you? Spending my youth and teenage years during the 60s and 70s, my experience with Christians was being called “Christ killer” and they accused Jews as being the ones who killed God (as if that was even possible!) My personal experience with traditional Christian teachings (which, sad to say, haven’t really changed) has been that the Jews are looked down upon because so many didn’t accept Yeshua when he was human, and even today, still don’t have enough sense to convert to Christianity. It is an arrogant position, thinking Christians are better than Jews because they worship Jesus, and we don’t: it is totally in opposition to what Shaul told them not to do in this chapter.

Here is another example of what Christianity has taught, regarding their affiliation with Jews: When I taught a Messianics 101 course at the messianic synagogue I attended in Philadelphia, I used to ask if they remembered the Bugs Bunny cartoon where Elmer chases Bugs up a tree, and Bugs is sitting at the far end of a branch while Elmer is on the same branch, right where it comes off the tree. He then starts to saw the branch between him and Bugs, and when he saws through, the branch that Bugs is on miraculously remains suspended in the air while the tree (and Elmer) fall down. Then I’d say this is what Christianity thinks they can do: reject the Torah, which is the Tree of Life (in Hebrew, we say Etz Chaim Hi), but still be attached to God.

Now, if that ain’t Looney Tunes, I don’t know what is!

Alright…back to Romans.

Shaul’s warnings in this chapter reminds me of the warning Moses gave the children of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land, reminding them that what they were to receive was not because they deserved it, but because of God’s love for his people (Deuteronomy 7:6).

Starting in Chapter 12, Shaul pleads with the Roman believers to work at changing their entire mindset, no longer conforming to what the world expects, but acting and thinking more in line with what God wants of them, even to the point of becoming (as he puts it) a living sacrifice to God. It seems that he is implying, from his previous statement about hypocrites, and now this statement about transforming themselves, that the Believers in Rome weren’t living a righteous life.

Sorry- but I have to interrupt, again.

The way these “megachurches” get so many attendees is that all they talk about is what God will do for them, and rarely, if ever, talk about what we are to do for God, except maybe to be loving to each other. That “Be a good person and love each other, and you get to go to heaven” is the sales pitch used, and so no wonder it attracts many people.

But it’s a lie- first off, even Yeshua said no one is good but God (Mark 10:18) and loving one another isn’t enough- Yeshua said even sinners do that (Luke 6:32). No- you need to do what God says to do BEFORE he will send blessings. When you read Deuteronomy 28 (the chapter known as the Blessings and Curses Chapter in the Torah) you will see that God tells us when we obey, he will bless us, and when we disobey, he will send curses (which really means he simply won’t bless us and leave us on our own in a sinful and fallen world). Note, please, the order: we obey, we get blessed, not we get blessed whether or not we obey.

OK, now that I have that off my chest, let’s get back to Romans.

Regarding how to be a living sacrifice, Shaul explains that the way we do that is not to think too highly of ourselves; rather, to use whatever gifts we have correctly and to love others, which includes those who do not love us. He gives the examples of blessing those who persecute us, of not repaying evil with evil, and to care for our enemies (again, how can I not mention how for centuries Christians have derided and persecuted Jews, just the opposite of what Shaul said they should do).

Many Christians have credited Shaul with being the originator of these godly teachings, but they are all found in the Tanakh, from Leviticus to Proverbs. And if you are thinking that it was just Shaul repeating what Yeshua said, that is correct, but where did Yeshua come up with these? That’s right- he got them from the Tanakh, as well.

Shaul continues to talk about how to love others through not judging others who are weaker in faith, and here is where another misinterpretation has led Christians to believe Shaul is saying the laws of Kashrut (Kosher laws defined in Leviticus 11) are no longer valid for Gentiles.

Chapter 14 is confusing, and (again) we run smack-dab into Shaul’s convoluted Jewish Logic. He states that there are those who eat differently: some just vegetables and others will eat everything (as we will see later, he is talking about vegetables and meat). This has been mistaught as meaning that food doesn’t matter because all those who believe in Yeshua and worship God are accepted.

Here we run into the same issue we had back in the Gospel of Mark, where Mark declares all food clean (Mark 7:19). To review what happened, Yeshua was asked why his talmidim (students, or disciples, in this case) don’t wash their hands before eating, which was a traditional man-made requirement. Yeshua tells them that it isn’t what we eat that makes us unclean, but what comes out of our heart, and at this point Mark states Yeshua declared all food clean.

But what is food to a First Century Jew? I can tell you this- it ain’t pork chops! What was considered as food to Jews at that time was only what God allowed us to eat, and so when Shaul, a Pharisee, talks about food, it is safe to assume he is talking only about what is allowed by God.

Chapter 14 has traditionally been misinterpreted to allow believers in Yeshua to eat trefe (unclean) foods; but, when you read these passages carefully, you see Shaul is talking only about vegetables and meat. He never mentions pork verse veal, or lobster verse cod- he talks about the difference between one eating only vegetables (the diet that Daniel ate) and another eating meat and vegetables. The gist of his lesson is that when there is a meal presented that has both vegetables and meat- and he is talking about a meal that is in accordance with the laws of Kashrut- and someone at the table thinks that it is a sin to eat meat, then to show your love you should eat only vegetables. And if you like vegetables, but someone else is eating both vegetables and meat, then you should have some meat, as well.

Again, even though Shaul is talking about food, this passage has nothing at all to do with Kashrut, and everything to do with not judging others regarding the strength or weakness of their faithful obedience (to the Torah). But later on, when Gentiles were reading this, they defined food as whatever is edible by human beings, and subsequently have misinterpreted this to mean that you don’t have to follow the kashrut laws if you believe in Jesus.

Shaul concludes this letter by talking about all the work he has done as minister to the Gentiles throughout Asia, and that he now wishes to come to Rome.

(As we read in Acts, he eventually made it there and was very fruitful ministering for about 2 years, but he never got out of Rome alive.)

At the end of this letter, as with many, he thanks those who have helped him and warns to be careful about false teachings (too bad that warning didn’t work) and to avoid anyone who places stumbling blocks in their way.

The next letters we will review are the ones he wrote to the Corinthians.

That’s it for now, so l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!