This is not a normal post here. I wish to pose an open question for others to respond to and I hope that it will benefit my own research and those who engage in the same sorts of issues that this question involves.
QUESTION: How do we account for the Jewishness of Paul’s letters given that Paul is apostle to Gentiles? This is a question that pertains not only to Paul’s own influences in Judaism, but how he expected his audience to understand his letters that are saturated (some more than others) with Jewish terms, imagery, quotes, allusions, echoes, stories and characters. I am not looking for easy answers – I am aware of many opinions on this matter. For those that simply say that Paul’s audiences were ‘godfearers’, what do you do with Philippians? For those that say he taught them to Scriptures himself, what do you do with Romans and Colossians?
It happened, by chance, that I was (and am) reviewing two books at the same time: Bruce Malina and John Pilch’s Social-Science Commentary on Paul and Andrew Das’s Solving the Romans Debate – both are arguing for extreme positions. Malina and Pilch (MP), as a major theme in their commentary, argue that Paul was not apostle to Gentiles, but rather he was apostle to Hellenized Jews in the Diaspora. They argue, in part, that the Greek Hellen in Paul does not refer to Gentiles or Greeks but ‘Hellenized’ or ‘sophisticated’ persons – in Paul’s context Jews. Keep in mind MP makes no reference to Acts in this assessment. Therefore, all of Paul’s (undisputed) letters are written to Jews except minor references to Gentiles in Romans. Therefore, Malina and Pilch’s Paul is a ‘change agent’ to Jews with little interest in Gentiles if any. Quite a bold statement, and I don’t offer a flattering review (see next Themelios).
Contrast this with Das’s handling of the Romans Debate with interest in the ‘encoded’ or ‘implied’ audience of Romans. What kind of congregation did Paul think he was writing to. Most commentators opt for a mix – some Jews and some Gentiles. Scholars fall all along the spectrum as to the balance, but Das argues that Paul writes exclusively to Gentiles. He attempts to deal with every passage that seems to consider Jews as among the audience. The Jewish interlocuter is hypothetical – not directly addressed. The ‘weak’ in the latter chapters are Gentile law-observers – not Jews. So Das is advocating a position in stark contrast to Malina and Pilch.
I wish to develop, with your help, criteria for discerning the audience of Paul’s letters (with the principles applied to each letter on its own, of course). Some criteria would be internal, of course. Others may be external to the letter.
I wish for comments to follow this guide: (1) assume the issue is more complicated than a simple remark; (2) Please cite books and scholars when stating an opinion, there is little consensus (anymore); (3) It is OK to raise more questions, but please keep it on this topic as close as possible.
I will look forward to any feedback provided. Just to confirm that this is a ‘hot’ issue right now, at SBL in Vienna the chap that is reading after me (Bas van Os) is discussing the audience of Galatians where he believes ‘it is likely that early Christian groups, including the communities addressed in Paul’s letters, were to a large extent Jewish. In the present paper, I will examine how the rhetoric of Paul and his opponents worked for Jewish recipients of the letter.’