Some say that Jesus was a good teacher who never claimed to be the Messiah or the Son of God. They claim that Paul imported pagan ideas into the Jewish teaching of Jesus in order to appeal to the Gentiles and create a new religion. Paul, some say, was the real “inventor” of Christianity and a detractor of Judaism who taught that the Torah was of no value.
The theory enables Jewish people to embrace Jesus while rejecting Christianity, but does it hold up under inquiry? In this section, we take a look at the essential Jewishness of Paul and his writings, his ethics, and his love for his own people.
A person is either Jewish or not Jewish, and few actually believe that Paul was not. Hyam Maccoby is virtually alone in his opinion that Paul was a gentile. 1 However, if we can speak of the extent to which one demonstrates Jewish identity as that person’s Jewishness,” perhaps it is Paul’s Jewishness that people wish to call into question.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul described his anguish over the disbelief of many fellow Jews: I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:2,3)
Detractors most commonly ascribe doctrines such as the deity of Jesus, the resurrection, sacramental meals and baptism to pagan origins. Again, if you’ll investigate the sources, you’ll see each of these doctrines or events is recorded in the first four books of the New Testament, not written by Paul. Two of the four writers were some of Jesus’ closest associates. In addition, most of these things were not alien to the Jewish thought or practice of Jesus’ day.