St. Paul and Consumer Society

by Peter J. Leithart 9 . 25 . 15 

According to many contemporary scholars, the apostle Paul didn’t object to “Judaizers” because they taught that salvation is achieved by works. He objected because Judaizers tried to reverse history by imposing the requirements of the old Mosaic covenant on Gentile Christians. Circumcision, dietary laws, and other Jewish practices functioned as “boundary markers,” and Paul insisted that such badges of Jewishness were now relativized to a common identity in Christ. Judaizing disrupted the Church in which there is no “Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”

Some traditional Protestants regard this new reading of Paul with suspicion, partly because it seems to rob Paul’s letters of their timeless relevance. Luther’s Paul always has something to say, because self-salvation is a perennial temptation. But if Paul is addressing a problem specific to the first century, what does he have to say to us now? Can we preach a Paul who is centrally concerned with Jewish identity?


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