Paul’s claim to be an Hebrew, and a consummate one at that, confirms that there is a religious significance to this identification, which precedes and is separate from the Israelite national identification, and is important enough for Paul to brag about.
From II Corinthians 11:22
- “Are they Hebrews? so am I.
- Are they Israelites? so am I.
- Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.”
From Philippians 3:5-6
- “Circumcised the eighth day,
- of the stock of Israel,
- of the tribe of Benjamin,
- an Hebrew of the Hebrews;
- as touching the law, a Pharisee.”
I am aware how sharply this contrasts with the orthodox Christian analysis of the letter to the Hebrews. “With its myriad references to Hebrew customs and the Old Testament, the book was likely sent to a Jewish Christian community.”
This is illogical for starters. The Messianic Jews didn’t need to be educated on the holy scriptures. It was the influx of scripturally illiterate Gentile believers who did to protect themselves from being led astray by Judaizers.
Assumptions like this analyst’s betray ignorance that the identity of “Hebrew” encompasses, but is not synonymous with, “Israelite” – all the descendants of Jacob, or “Jew” – genetic and amalgamated members of the clan of Judah.
I strongly suspect that Paul struggled with recognizing his and his fellow Israelites’ priority identity as Hebrews. Like Jesus‘, Paul’s pervasive quoting of Old Testament writings to prove his New Testament assertions proves to me, at least, that this superlatively knowledgeable Jewish lawyer spent most of his one-on-one tutorial with the Word reframing his understanding of the Old Testament presentations and prophecies.
Having a problem digesting this? Then you can grasp what a massive “backward” paradigm shift this was to the Messianic Jews. Think of this situation like the conflict between American Federalists claiming higher authority to annul any laws made by one of the States comprising the United States. We know how that turned out.
What led to the outbreak of the bloodiest conflict in the history of North America?
A common explanation is that the Civil War was fought over the moral [emphasis added] issue of slavery.
In fact, it was the economics of slavery and political control of that system that was central to the conflict.
A key issue was states’ rights.
The Southern states wanted to assert their authority over the federal government so they could abolish federal laws they didn’t support, especially laws interfering with the South’s right to keep slaves and take them wherever they wished.
Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation sharpened the focus of the American Civil War from a political power struggle with compromises possible to a scorched earth, winner take all.
Sectional tensions over slavery in the United States had been building for decades by 1854, when Congress’ passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened territory that had previously been closed to slavery according to the Missouri Compromise...
Emancipation would redefine the Civil War, turning it from a struggle to preserve the Union to one focused on ending slavery, and set a decisive course for how the nation would be reshaped after that historic conflict.
At the outset of that conflict, Lincoln insisted that…”My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery…If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others along I would also do that…”
As Lincoln and his allies in Congress realized emancipation would have no constitutional basis after the war ended, they soon began working to enact a Constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. By the end of January 1865, both houses of Congress had passed the 13th Amendment, and it was ratified that December.
“It is my greatest and most enduring contribution to the history of the war,” Lincoln said of emancipation in February 1865, two months before his assassination. “It is, in fact, the central act of my administration, and the great event of the 19th century.”
Likewise, Paul’s proclamation that the Gentiles were entitled to full rights in the Hebrew nation inflamed the existing conflict with the Messianic Jews. And understandably so. They stood to lose significant political and economic power if they acknowledged that their political entity of “Jews” was subordinate to a higher authority of “Hebrews”.
Note carefully that Abraham Lincoln recognized that he needed a higher authority than just his position as elected president and the current government officials to truly empower the freeing of slaves. He did this by appealing to the Constitution, the supreme law of the nation, and to Almighty God as supreme law giver.
I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free
…And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution…I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind [note the humanism], and the gracious favor [blessings only, not authority] of Almighty God.
Likewise, Paul’s proclamation of equality among ALL believers in Jesus Christ as the promised Seed of the Woman, regardless of national origin, was not established via fiat through a “revelation” creating a “new Christian” church superseding the now extinct Jewish religion.
It was based on the existing constitution of the Hebrew nation.
Whoa! Hands waving frantically by those in the know. Paul himself said he received revelation about the church from Jesus. Good point. Let’s look at that passage.
“Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
- How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery
- compare the revelation of Jesus Christ to John. No revelation at the end of any mystery story announces a new thing. Unveiling a new product or service is advertising. Revelation of a mystery clarifies the details about circumstances already known in generalities.
- Whereby, when ye read [what else, if not scripture?] ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ / the Messiah / Prophesied One To Come
- Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit
- That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in the Messiah / Christ by the the gospel
- Whereof I was made a minister…to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery
- which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God…
- To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church / congregation of sanctified one the manifold wisdom of God – he always outwits the Adversary!
- According to the eternal purpose which he purpose in YHVH’s Promised Savior our Lord
- Of whom the whole family / tribe / nation in heaven and earth is named
- Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages (Ephesians 3)
Now do you get it? What appeared to be a constantly losing battle with Satan from the beginning of time to possess men’s souls is revealed to be instead a win for God through his COVERT ACTIONS WORKING WITHIN SATAN’S STRATEGY!
What a coup!
This is the revelation Paul – and other apostles and prophets – were given. Not the creation of a new Christian Church.
The apparent loss of the Adams to the serpent’s lie has already been discussed in the post The King Is Dead as instead a win for God when, faced with a choice, Adam developed the likeness of God. Instead of taking the easily rationalized route of self-ishly abandoning his helpmeet, he instead self-lessly died for her sake.
Another example would be the spreading of Judaism throughout the Persian Empire made possible only when Haman’s plan to destroy all Jews gave Esther the opportunity to choose to selflessly present her body a living sacrifice rather than selfishly abandon her people. Read the book of Esther if you are not familiar with this magnificent military report. And for the purposes of this discussion, the spreading of faith in Jesus Christ world wide was expedited, not crushed as would be expected, by the terrifying Roman Empire’s military-backed world-wide reach.
This is further proven hermeneutically. Note carefully, this word “constitution” encompasses the action of bringing into existence as well as the policies and practices on which all national actions are either legitimized or deemed acts of rebellion against the State.
All these requirements are not found for a new nation led by Paul, but in the biblical record of the constitution of the Hebrew nation led by Abraham.
- “…they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and…reasoned with them out of the [Old Testament only being available at that time] scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ / promised redeemer must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus whom I preach unto you, is Christ.
- And some of them believed…and of the devout Greeks a great multitude…
- Coming [to Berea] thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.
- These…received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.“ (Acts 17)