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Did Paul Behave Differently with Jews and Gentiles?

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 1 Corinthians 9:20

During a lengthy argument between pronomians and antinomians in an online forum, one Torah-keeper asked “Why did Paul go with other Christian brothers and sacrifice sheep at the Temple?”

Someone on the other side of the argument replied…

Why? That easy: 1 Corinthians 9:20

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. “

-NorOb

In other words, NorOb believes that Paul was a good actor. He was just pretending to do Jewish things to trick the Jews into thinking he was just like them. When Jews complained that Paul was teaching other Jews to abandon Torah, he took a Nazirite vow and made a blood sacrifice at the Temple, paying for several other men to do the same thing to demonstrate that those Jews were in error. If NorOb’s interpretation is correct, then Paul only did this to pretend that he still kept the Law. As soon as he was back among gentiles, he resumed eating pork chops.

This is not a reasonable interpretation. Once again, it is a misunderstanding based on one statement taken out of its original context. Here’s the same verse with the surrounding text:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Unless NorOb is a true antinomian and libertine, I seriously doubt that he believes that “I have become all things to all people” means Paul fornicated in order to witness to fornicators. He didn’t starve himself and cause his muscles to atrophy so that he could become weak in order to win the weak over to Christ. His intended meaning should be very clear to those who have done actual street ministry or door-to-door witnessing.

Paul didn’t become lawless so that he could win the lawless or legalistic to win the legalistic. Instead he did the same thing that Yeshua did with prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, and rabbis: he spoke to them where they were and in terms they could understand. He did not pretend to be something he was not. In order to convince deeply religious Jews that Yeshua is the Messiah, Paul wrote of the priesthood and tabernacle (the Letter to the Hebrews, probably). In order to introduce Greeks to the Creator, he spoke to them of their own Unknown God (Acts 17:21-34).

I am certain that Paul did not mean what NorOb asserted, and Paul himself confirmed it. First, in the very same passage, Paul said that he did not operate outside of God’s Law.

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.
1 Corinthians 9:21

Second, only a few sentences later, he wrote that he kept his body under strict discipline so as no to compromise his witness.

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:27

In other words, he strictly monitored and controlled his own behavior so that nobody would have cause to call him a hypocrite. He was consistent in lifestyle, morality, worship, theology, not changing his behavior based on the company at hand. He called Peter on the carpet for the very thing that NorOb accused Paul of:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Galatians 2:11-14

Third, he said that he remained a Pharisee in regards to the Law his entire life. He always kept the Law no matter where he was or who was watching.

My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.
Acts 26:4-5

Either Paul lied to Agrippa or else he continued to live as a Pharisee at all times during his many missionary trips among both Jews and Gentiles recorded in the book of Acts. 

It is abundantly clear from Paul’s own extensive testimony that he did not sacrifice at the Temple only so that he could appear to be a Jew in the eyes of other Jews. He sacrificed at the Temple because he really was a Torah-observant Jew in every way and continued as such throughout his entire life.

And he wrote…

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:1

Be obedient like Paul and like Christ. Be straightforward and consistent in your moral behavior, like Paul and like Christ.

You Will Not Wander Forever

And the LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws." Genesis 26:2-5
Check out this related video: Does God ever forget his promises?

And the LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
Genesis 26:2-5

A Promise Delayed

Because of Abraham’s faith that was made manifest in his obedience to God’s instructions and laws, God made promises to both Abraham and Isaac, promises that neither of them ever saw fulfilled in their own lifetimes.

God said that he would give them the land that we now call Israel, yet they were both wanderers in a land occupied by foreigners all their days.

God said that he would multiply their descendants as the stars of heaven The promise was first given to Abraham, and only his son Isaac inherited it. LIkewise, of Isaac’s two sons, the inheritance passed by Esau in favor of Jacob. After three generations, Abraham’s descendants numbered the vast total of one.

Even so, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob kept their faith in God’s name. They trusted him that those promises would be fulfilled when the time was right, and God’s timing can’t be rushed. He sees more and farther and deeper than we ever will. His understanding of the movement of time and men’s hearts is perfect.

God Hasn’t Changed or Forgotten Anything

God has made promises to all of us who have pledged our allegiance to Yeshua and joined ourselves to Israel, and sometimes it seems as if they will never come to fruition. It’s easy to get discouraged and distracted when the light at the end of the tunnel never gets any brighter.

Fortunately, God’s light is always around us. It’s in the long history of his faithfulness to his word, the beauty and wonder of his creation, and the wisdom of his Torah.

Remember also that the light of his promises can never be dimmed by us. No matter how un-Christ-like we might feel or actually be at times, God will never break his word. Judgment will come, balance will be restored, and the bill for our ultimate salvation is already paid in full. Not because of anything we have ever done or could do, but because Abraham was faithful to obey God’s voice, to keep his charge, his commandments, statutes, and laws, and–more importantly–because God has said it.

In the words of Balaam who tried and failed to curse us…

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it. He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel. The LORD their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them.
Numbers 23:19-21

When Love Requires Violence

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven… You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-45a,48)

In Matthew 5, Yeshua corrected a number of man-made doctrines and misunderstandings of Biblical principles. Although Leviticus 19:18 says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, there is no command in Scripture to “hate your enemy”. It’s easy to see where they would get such an idea, though. In Psalm 139, David wrote,

Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:21-22)

This sounds at first like David hated his enemies, but that’s not what he said. David hated “those who rise up against” God and also counted them as his own enemies. He didn’t say that he hated his own enemies, most especially those who merely hated God in their hearts–which is bad enough–but only those who took action on their hatred, who rose up against God in open rebellion, attempting to bring others into their error.

On the national level, the Tanakh (the Old Testament) records numerous instances of God commanding Israel to attack those who had made themselves enemies of God either by attacking God’s people directly or by attempting to lead them into sin through which they could be cursed and defeated.

This is exactly the strategy that Balaam taught Moab and Midian to use against Israel. By attacking Israel, those nations became God’s enemies. If they had attacked Israel only in self-defense, they would still be Israel’s enemies, but not necessarily God’s, and Israel would be in the wrong. But they didn’t attack Israel in self-defense. They didn’t even attack because they hated Israel, but because they hated God who had chosen Israel instead of them.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the chief of Midian, their sister, who was killed on the day of the plague on account of Peor.” (Numbers 25:16-18)

There is no instance of God commanding Israel to attack or hate anyone simply because they were rivals or enemies of Israel. Edom also hated Israel, but unlike Midian and the various Canaanite nations, they didn’t rise up against God. Despite centuries of conflict between the rival kingdoms, God commanded Israel to respect the boundaries of Edom until they were both conquered by Babylon.

The same principle holds true for interpersonal relationships, especially between brothers among God’s people. In Matthew 5:43-48, Yeshua drew on the broader context of the original source of “love your neighbor as yourself”, Leviticus 19:1-30. This passage is structured as a chiasm (see here for more information on chiasms) in which commands to refrain from hateful behavior are sandwiched between instructions on sacrifice, refraining from idolatry, and reverencing parents, Tabernacle, and Sabbath.

  • v3 – Reverence for parents & Sabbath
    • v4 – Idolatry/paganism
      • v5-10 – Sacrifice and food
        • v11-20 – Fraud, oppression, hatred, mixtures, sexual abuse
      • v21-26a – Sacrifice and food
    • v26b-29 – Idolatry/paganism
  • v30 – Reverence for Tabernacle & Sabbath

A chiasm in Leviticus 19:3-30 that equates hatred with idolatry.This is very similar to another, much larger, chiastic structure in Exodus 25-40. In that instance, the idolatry of the golden calf, after which God commanded the faithful of Israel to kill their own brothers, is set between the stone tablets, Sabbath, and instructions for the Tabernacle. See more details on that chiasm here.

God’s intent in this arrangement appears to be to equate unjust hatred for one’s brothers with idolatry, or hatred of God himself. To paraphrase God’s message…

Don’t steal from or lie to one another. Don’t oppress the powerless. Don’t hold hatred in your heart for your brother. Don’t speak ill of one another. Respect the boundaries I have created. Just like you, your brothers are created in my image and if you abuse them, it is like you are abusing me. My true worshiper not only offers sacrifices and reverences his parents, my sanctuary, and my Sabbath, but reverences his brothers, even those who have done him wrong.

Mercy is always God’s default position. He loves all mankind and doesn’t want even a single person to be lost. But for reasons of his own, he has created us able to reject him and each other. We are fully capable of theft, rape, and murder, and God doesn’t stop us from committing whatever wicked act comes into our hearts.

Just as he has empowered us to do evil, he has empowered and even commanded us to correct injustices. We are required to execute murderers and adulterers and to exact punishment and restitution where applicable.

The punishment of criminals and the destruction of entire nations who have sworn enmity against God is not counter to Yeshua’s instructions to love one another. It is impossible to love everyone equally as some are willing oppressors while others are innocently oppressed. To destroy the one is to love the other and God’s word is consistently in favor of the oppressed.*

Usually love means being kind and merciful, but sometimes love also requires violence.

*And by oppressed I don’t mean poor or uneducated. Those are conditions that might be the result of oppression, but they might as easily be the result of natural disasters or poor personal decisions. I mean people who are actively being oppressed by someone else and who are unable to defend themselves.

Update: Here’s a little more detail on that chiasm. The chiasm itself is actually one and one-half segments of a triple parallelism.

  • V3 – Reverence (Mother, Father, Sabbath)
    • V4 – Idolatry
      • V5-10 – Sacrifices and food
        • V11-12 – Fraud
        • V13-15 – Oppression
        • V16-18 – Hatred
        • V19 – Mixtures
        • V20 – Oppression/sexual immorality
      • V21-26a – Sacrifices and food
    • V26b-29 – Idolatry/paganism
  • V30 – Reverence (Sabbath, sanctuary)
    • V31 – Idolatry/paganism
  • V32 – Reverence (Elders)
    • V33-36 – Oppression & Fraud