"Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People" Part 2
"If the attempt to respond to them (the questions arising from Paul's thought about the Jewish people) takes less space than was spent on the law, it is not because the problems are less momentous or less difficult, but because there are fewer passages and there is wider agreement about them." (p. 171, parenthetical comment added)
Nevetheless, I wish Sanders would have devoted a bit more of his book to these questions and passages. Sanders proceeds to deal with three topics concerning Paul's relationship to the Jewish people. The first of these is the question of whether or not believers, the ekklesia, constitute a "third race." Sanders recognizes that there is a tension in Paul's thought concerning this, which is not surprising considering his views on the law. On the one hand, Paul no doubt thought of the ekklesia as the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham, thus to posit a distinction between Israel and "true Israel" would probably be erroneous. On the other hand, however, Paul's emphasis that all become one in Christ and so erradicating distinctions such as Jew and Gentile, would lead to the conception of the church as a "third" entity. This latter emphasis, Sanders' concludes, probably eventually came to dominate Paul's understanding of the the nature of the church:
"Paul's view of the church, supported by his practice, against his own conscious intention, was substantially that it was a third entity, not just because it was composed of both Jew and Greek, but also because it was in important ways neither Jewish nor Greek." (p. 179)
The second issue Sanders proceeds to tackle is that concerning Paul's missionary practice. This section was the most enlightening for myself and ultimately I was convinced of Sanders' presentation that Paul most likely rarely engaged in missionary practices towards his fellow Jews, but rather focused purely on Gentile pagans, and not Hellenistic Jews or even Gentile God-fearers despite what Acts attempts to portray. The one point on which I departed from Sanders in this section was his assertion that both Paul and the other Apostles did not make special provision for Diaspora Jews. Sanders offers no evidence for this except to point out that a mission to the Jews of Alexandria is never mentioned in the New Testament. But this is arguing from silence and Sanders in the same paragraph asserts that Christianity did eventually come to Egypt, though he claims the reasons for this are unknown (p.189).
The last issue is, of course, the question of the salvation of Israel. Here Sanders enters into the merky exegetical waters concerning how to interpret Paul when he affirms that "all Israel will be saved." (Rom. 11:25ff) Sanders quickly dismisses the view that this passage has in mind the eschatological salvation of all Israel apart from Christ. Sanders notes that "the connection with the Gentile mission shows that the salvation of Israel does not take place apart from Christ." (p. 194) Sanders further argues that when Paul quotes from Isaiah concerning the "Deliverer" who will come and banish ungodliness from Jacob, he has in mind Christ and not God apart from Christ. However, whether the "Deliverer" is Christ or God,
"matters little...for it is incredible that he thought of 'God apart from Christ,' just as it is that he thought of 'Christ apart from God.' This is where the interpretation of Rom. 11:25ff as offering two ways to salvation seems to me to go astray. It requires Paul to have made just that distinction. By the time we meet him in his letters, however, Paul knew only one God, the one who sent Christ and who 'raised from the dead Jesus our Lord' (Rom. 4:24)" (p. 194)
On this score I think Sanders has made a valid point. To isolate Christ from God, and God from Christ in Paul's thought is surely erroneous.
Strangely, after providing some strong foundational exegetical reasons for seeing this passage as talking about the eschatological redemption of all the Jews, and saying that "it would not surprise me a great deal to discover this to be the correct interpretation of Paul's thought", Sanders asserts that he is unpersuaded that this is the correct interpretation and instead claims that the simplest reading of 11:13-36 is:
"the only way to enter the body of those who will be saved is by faith in Christ; the mission to the Gentiles will indirectly lead to the salvation of "all Israel" (that is their fullness); thus at the eschaton God's entire plan will be fulfilled and the full number of both Jews and Gentiles will be saved, and saved on the same basis." (p. 196)
Sanders ends up affirming a type of covenant theology position, promiment amongst Reformers, that the "all Israel" that is saved, is that which constitutes the elect Gentile and elect Jewish believers. But this is not the end of the matter for Sanders himself condones a two covenant approach to the Jewish situation and leaves his readers with the possibility that Paul, had he lived for two thousand more years, may well have come to adopt the two covenant position.
On the matter of the interpretation of "all Israel" I remain unpersuaded of Sanders position, as I am of the Reformed viewpoint concerning this passage. But that will be a matter for another time. On the whole I was well pleased with this book and was convinced by many of Sanders points concerning Paul and his view of the law.
At the end of the book, Sanders makes a poignant observation that I wish to leave you with concerning why Paul's views on the law and the Jewish people have given biblical exegetes many headaches throughout the centuries:
"He (Paul) sometimes sounds quite glib about transferring the promises made to Abraham to those in Christ, but it worried him. God made those promises, and he made them to a historical people. And Paul knew it. As he neared what by his own calculation must have been the last phase of his career, his doubts surfaced. And thus we have Romans; and thus New Testament professors have a continuing occupation. What is interesting is how far Paul was from denying anything that he held deeply, even when he could not maintain all his convictions at once without both anguish and finally a lack of logic. It is thus no accident that the most difficult chapters for interpreters are also the most anguished." (p. 199)