In Paul and the Gentiles, Terence Donaldson seeks an answer to the question of how Paul arrived at his Gentile mission, which included Paul’s view that Gentiles could be incorporated into the people of God (Abraham’s seed) without being circumcised and observing the law. In my reading today, Donaldson brought into his discussion the different Jewish views on the Gentile relationship with the Torah, views that I have blogged about over the past few days.
Donaldson disagrees with those who suggest that Paul got his ideas for Gentile mission from the “Righteous Gentile” concept. The “Righteous Gentile” concept said that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised or keep the Torah in order to be righteous before God and to enter the World to Come, for all they had to do for that was to keep the seven Noachide commandments. Donaldson acknowledges, however, that there is some appeal to attributing Paul’s notion of Gentile mission to the “Righteous Gentile” concept. Both, after all, affirmed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and observe the Torah to become righteous before God. Moreover, the Jewish “Eschatological Pilgrim” view that Gentiles would turn to God in the time of the eschaton—-and that the Gentiles would become “Righteous Gentiles”, not necessary proselytes to Judaism—-could arguably account for Paul’s stance towards the Gentiles. Paul believed that Jesus as the Messiah inaugurated the eschaton, and perhaps that led Paul to attempt to bring the Gentiles to God, and to do so in a manner that allowed them to retain their Gentile identity, without converting to Judaism. But Donaldson does not opt for that solution, for Paul is clear that Gentiles become part of Abraham’s offspring when they convert to Christianity. According to Donaldson, Paul overlapped with the Jewish view that said Gentiles needed to become part of Israel to be saved, only Paul had a different requirement for entrance into God’s people: it was not circumcision and acceptance of the Mosaic law, but rather faith in Christ.
At the same time, Donaldson does appear to draw from the “Natural Law Proselyte” view to account for Paul’s treatment of the law. Donaldson acknowledges that Paul’s view on the law’s relationship to Gentiles is ambiguous: does Paul believe that Gentiles were subject to the law’s authority, or that God gave the law to Israel alone? On page 148, Donaldson says that the Jewish notion of the “Natural Law Proselyte” may resemble Paul’s approach to the law. Donaldson documents incidents in which Jewish writings refer to Gentile subservience to the law, and yet they talk about such issues as virtue and avoiding idolatry, while omitting mention of the ceremonies of the law that separate Jews from Gentiles (e.g., Sabbaths, dietary regulations, etc.). The implication may be that Gentiles observe the law when they worship God only and live virtuous lives, even if they do not observe the Sabbath and the dietary laws. Paul appears to have this sort of idea in Romans 2, where he says that Gentiles practice the law when they follow their consciences. The problem, however, is that Donaldson says on page 65 that Natural Law Proselytes were not full members of Israel. If Paul was aware of the idea that Gentiles could become righteous by obeying the Natural Law, why was he so insistent that Gentiles needed to become part of Abraham’s seed to be saved? At the same time, it is important to remember that, for Paul, Gentiles fell short of the law they were under, as did Jews, which was why both needed Christ for salvation. In any case, Donaldson backtracks from the idea that the “Natural Law Proselyte” view accounts for the origin of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, for Paul probably differed from Hellenistic Judaism, which largely had the “Natural Law Proselyte” view.