Having seen all the similarities between Paul and the prophets in Part 1, let’s now look at what was different between them. You may be surprised to find out that some of their similarities are also the basis for their differences.
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Both had a calling, but the prophets were called by God to bring the people back to the proper form of worship, whereas Paul’s calling was not by God but by Yeshua, and it was to bring the Good News of the Messiah. What is interesting is that during the First Century, although the pagan practices that the prophets addressed weren’t happening within the Jewish population, that era was rife with political corruption. However, God didn’t send Paul to deal with that, nor did Yeshua call him to deal with it. The difference between Paul’s calling and the prophet’s calling was both the subject matter and the ultimate target audience: the prophets were sent exclusively to the Jews to bring them back to proper worship but Paul was sent to the Jews to prove Yeshua was the Messiah, and to also bring that “light” to the Gentiles.
The prophets, as mentioned above, were to bring people back into the proper form of worship, as defined in the Torah. The people that the prophets talked to knew what the Torah said, for the most part, but Paul had a different goal. The Jews knew the Torah but the Gentiles didn’t. So, whereas the prophets were not teaching how to worship God properly, Paul had to teach the Gentiles about God, the Messiah, AND the Torah. To do that, Paul (as well as the Elders in Jerusalem) knew that they couldn’t turn hedonistic, sexually-perverse and sinful pagans into righteous, humble, and sexually pure Jews overnight; so, they introduced the Torah to them slowly, bit-by-bit, so that they wouldn’t be turned away from the righteousness they were being taught. That is why they wrote the letter we read about in Acts 15, which was never meant for those 4 rules to be the only rules for the Gentiles, but the first baby steps. As for Paul’s letters, they have been misused and misinterpreted: Paul knew the idea behind Yeshua’s parable about the seed being sown and how some of it was choked by the weeds. His slow introduction to the lifestyle demanded by God in the Torah was his attempt to prevent his newly sown seed from being choked.
One major, and fairly obvious, difference is that the prophets talked of the Messiah to come, but Paul talked about the Messiah who came.
The prophets had a clear and precise message- return to God and he will return to you. Paul, on the other hand, did not ask anyone to return to anything. He wanted them to move on, to take the next step and accept Yeshua as the Messiah God promised to send. And because he was teaching the Gentiles about the Torah slowly, his letters to the congregations he had created were not God-dictated instructions (as with the prophets), but merely managerial directives to get the people in those congregations back on track. When we read those Epistles from Paul, we can see that every one of them went to a congregation having either interpersonal or spiritual issues which were turning them away from proper understanding of how to live their new lifestyle. So, in a way, the prophets and Paul were both calling people to proper worship, but whereas the prophets were dealing with Jews who already knew right from wrong, Paul was dealing with ex-pagans who had to first learn right from wrong. The prophets ran an advanced review course, but Paul was teaching Introduction to the Torah and the shame of it is that because he had to do it slowly, his letters have been misused in order to take people away from the Torah.
The prophets talked about both present and future events, but Paul was all about the here and now. The prophesies that God gave to the prophets had both immediate and future implications, which is why many of the messianic prophecies have been denied as such by mainstream Judaism, rejecting the idea that some prophecies are dual in nature: they are about the immediate future and also the distant future. But Paul, except for his few references to the Acharit HaYamim (End Days), dealt mainly with what people need to do now. Of course, both the prophets and Paul wanted the people to change now- prophets saying come back to proper worship and Paul saying learn proper worship- but their methods were very different.
To put it in a nutshell, the main difference between the Prophets and Paul was in their methodology and the origin of their message. The prophets went to the Jewish people with the message that they were to return to God by rejecting paganistic worship and doing what God said to do in the Torah, which the people already knew about.
Paul dealt with Gentiles who had no idea about proper worship, had never known the Torah, and were surrounded by both Jews and Gentiles who were giving them different messages. That was the main issue in Paul’s letter to the Galatians- the believing Jews were trying to get 100% conversion all at once, which Paul knew would be more damaging than helpful.
The bottom-line difference between the prophets and Paul is that the prophets brought the word of God to the people directly from God, and Paul brought the word of God to the people, quoting from the Tanakh.
In the next lesson we will bring this teaching to a conclusion.
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That’s it for now, so l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!