I have long been wondering about the word “Radical” in the label that refers to the group of scholars who do not allow Paul to be read outside Judaism, i.e., the so-called Radical New Perspective on Paul (or the Paul-within-Judaism Perspective). I think that the term “Radical” is a red herring because placing Paul back into Judaism of his day is one of the least radical ways of reading the Apostle–no matter what you read (be it Jewish writings or his own letters), it is hardly possible to dispute that Paul was (highly) critical of Palestinian Judaism.

Paul Foster at the University of Edinburgh seems to think like I do. In his insightful article, “An Apostle Too Radical for the Radical Perspective on Paul” (The Expository Times 133 [2021] 1-11), he critiques Paula Fredriksen’s RNP views as represented in her 2017 book Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle. I agree with most of Foster’s points–except for his doubt on Paul’s authorship of Ephesians–and I want to share some portions of his “Concluding Observations” (9-11) because they show why the word “Radical” in Radical New Perspective is misleading:

“They [RNP, PwJ] present a Paul who simply is not very radical” (10) . . . “Paul the Jew, striving to bring non-Jews to a place where they acknowledged and worshipped the God of Israel as the only God, and engaged in all the ethical practices required by the Law in obedience to that God of Israel” (10) . . . “What could have been more congenial”? (10) . . . “This domesticated and congenial Paul is certainly not the Paul one meets in his own writings” (10).

If we read Paul’s own writings, he is not a domesticated and congenial figure; rather, he is “a fiery and driven figure, a person who had undergone a radical change in his own self-understanding . . . This is certainly a radical perspective on Paul, but not one that emerges from a Paul with Judaism, but a Paul in Christ” (11).

2 thoughts on “Paul: Far Too Radical an Apostle

  1. I just wonder how he could have conflated the way of thought rooted in Jewish custom, Jewish religion, multi-lingual social-economic (even religious) system with the nascent and challenging discipline of the early Christianity.

    1. Thanks, Aaron, for the comment. There could be various ways to describe what it was that Paul did. Did he conflate Judaism and Christianity? Or did he in fact continue in Judaism? Or did he abandon his Jewish legacy and become the true (or second) founder of the Christian religion? Paul never ceases to fascinate many (myself included, of course).

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