BEFORE WE COME to the teaching of Paul, the self-styled ‘Apostle to the Gentiles,’ let us examine the arguments that Christians use for including themselves (being largely non-Jews/ “Gentiles”) within the scope of Jesus’ message.

The Prophecies of Isaiah Purportedly Regarding “the Gentiles”

Let us consider the prophetic statements of the [Jewish] prophet Isaiah mentioning “the Gentiles” and “the nations” as quoted by Jesus (Gospel of Matthew 4:15-16):

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he went away to Galilee. He did not stay in Nazareth, but went to live in Capernaum, a town by Lake Galilee, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was done to make come true what the prophet Isaiah had said:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, on the road to the sea, on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee, land of the Gentiles! The people who live in darkness will see a great light. On those who live in the dark land of death the light will shine. [Isaiah 9:1-2]

From that time Jesus began to preach his message: “Turn away from your sins, because the kingdom of heaven is near!”

Also, the Gospel of Matthew 12:17-18:

[Jesus] did this so as to make come true what God had said through the prophet Isaiah:

Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, the one I love, and with whom I am pleased. I will send my Spirit upon him, and he will announce my judgment to the nations…. [Isaiah 42:1]

Using Isaiah the prophet’s prophecies, some would argue that these are proof texts to indicate that Jesus` ministry was somehow to include the Gentiles. But are they? In the first case, the Isaiah passage identifies the Galilee area as a place where foreigners (non-Jews) were living and the passage is quoted because of its reference to the two Jewish tribes, Zebulun and Naphtali, whose territory was where Jesus went to live at that time. The people living in darkness were the mentioned tribes, Zebulun and Naphtali, living next to Gentile peoples. In the second case, the point is that Jesus was God’s chosen servant, led by His spirit to announce God’s judgment to “the nations.”  Who, then,  are “the nations”?

But it is established fact that Isaiah is a Jewish prophet and that he came and preached the message of salvation expressly to his Jewish people. His book’s main theme is how to redeem the Jews—not non-Jews. At the very beginning the book states, “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw” (Isaiah 1:1).

It is true that many Bible translations use the interpretive phrase ‘the Gentiles,’ but others stick with the literal wording, ‘the nations’ in the Isaiah 42:1 passage.

As per God’s promised blessing (Genesis 12:2, 17:4, 17:5, 176; 28:3, 35:11, 48:4), the twelve tribes of Israel are called ‘nations’ in many places in the Bible. Accordingly, Isaiah used the term ‘nations’ in reference to the twelve tribes. Never do we see –in the four Gospel narratives of the New Testament—Jesus taking his message to Gentiles; thus, we are forced to conclude that Isaiah’s reference to ‘the nations’ would have to have the same meaning as the term clearly does in the Genesis passages, namely, referring to the Jewish tribes.

How then did the misinterpretation come about?

PAUL: MASTERMIND OF CALLING NON-JEWS TO HIS GOSPEL

In the biblical record, there is no evidence that Jesus and his twelve apostles ever taught his message to the Gentiles. So, who did start the ministry to non-Jews? Based on the information given us in the New Testament, we can infer that it was Paul who invented the Christian message about Jesus and preached it outside Jewish circles.

Who, then, was Paul?

Paul: Self-Declared Apostle to the Gentiles

Pau l –a Jew—was versed in knowledge of the old [Jewish] scriptures, and at first he was a notorious enemy of the movement for national repentance begun with John the Baptist and taken up by Jesus with his Kingdom of God message. These two Jewish prophets were affecting the Jewish population so deeply that the Roman occupying forces feared serious unrest and more active insurrection against them.

Paul was so adamant in his zeal for his people that he used to torture and persecute believers. When he realized that persecution could not stop the expansion of Jesus` ministry, he dramatically “converted” to become a follower of Jesus—according to Paul himself.

Then he re-invented a message about Jesus, a so-called ‘gospel.’ While attractive to Gentiles, Paul’s ‘gospel’ rejected Jesus` core precepts and principles. Actually, the idea of Paul being a follower of Jesus is best understood as another form of opposition:  a sweet and subtle revenge against the mission of Jesus by polluting his doctrine, by bringing in non-Jews (whereas Jesus had rejected them) and by avoiding the requirements of the Torah (which Jesus had required).

Paul was not one of the twelve apostles who had been appointed directly by Jesus and who had gotten any direct teaching, blessing, or authority from the man Jesus. He had never met Jesus, but one day Paul declared himself an apostle of Jesus to the Gentiles:

God has appointed me as an apostle and teacher to proclaim the Good News … Remember Jesus Christ, who was raised from death, who was a descendant of David, as is taught in the Good News I preach. (Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy 1:11; 2:8)

From Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus and an apostle chosen and called by God to preach his Good News. (Letter of Paul to the Romans 1:1)

Paul suggests that his mission to the non-Jews was admittedly for his own gain by making more followers for his group.

I want to win converts among you also, as I have among other Gentiles. (Paul’s Letters to the Romans 1:13).

Paul’s pretext?

…Because [the Jews] sinned, salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make the Jews jealous of them …their spiritual poverty brought rich blessings to the Gentiles…I am speaking now to you Gentiles: As long as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I will take pride in my work. Perhaps I can make the people of my own race jealous, and so be able to save some of them … (Paul’s Letter to the Romans 11:11-14)

Speaking in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia [Asia Minor] to Jews who rejected his message, Paul spoke out boldly:

… and on the Sabbath they [Paul and his companions]  went into the synagogue and sat down. …

The next Sabbath nearly everyone in the town came to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; they disputed what Paul was saying and insulted him. But Paul and Barnabas spoke out even more boldly: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. But since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we will leave you and go to the Gentiles. For this is the commandment that the Lord has given us:

I have made you a light for the Gentiles, so that all the world may be saved.

When the Gentiles heard this they were glad and praised the Lord’s message; and those who had been chosen for eternal life became believers. (Acts of the Apostles 13:14, 44-48)

It is Paul who alluded to the imagery of Isaiah and claimed the interpretation that he was ‘a light for the Gentiles.’ Compare, above, Jesus’ use of the Isaiah passage, in which the “light”—of Jesus’ message— was to be seen by the Jewish tribes (“nations”) of Zebulun and Naphtali whose lands had been changed by the presence of non-Jews (‘Gentiles”) among them. Isaiah’s words (Isaiah 9:1-2), “a light for the Gentiles” cannot be equated with Paul’s claim that his own message was “a light for the Gentiles” (Acts of the Apostles 13:47).

Paul claimed himself an apostle over 13 times in the New Testament writings attributed to him, whereas Jesus` twelve disciples did not seem to need to use this title to apply to themselves.

And let us be clear, we are not suggesting that God—who revealed Himself to Moses and to all the Jewish prophets—is not interested in guiding the rest of mankind.  For, in the Quran, the stories of the Hebrew (Jewish) prophets are recounted for the guidance of all mankind. As Muslims we affirm that Allah has revealed Himself to prophets in every nation and that in Muhammad ﷺ He speaks to all mankind in one and the same revelation, the Quran.

What we are pointing out in this series is that Jesus did not call all mankind to a Jewish tradition. The message of Jesus was taught to a Jewish audience and it was to be spread:

  • by his personally-taught, Jewish, disciples (‘apostles’) – not by a self-appointed ‘apostle’ who had never met Jesus and who shunned the company of those apostles who had been mentored by Jesus (The Letter of Paul to the Galatians 1:11-17; 2:6, 11).
  • tothe nations’—that is, to all those people within the Jewish tradition, wherever they lived in the [Jewish] Diaspora – not to those among whom the Israelites lived, meaning “the Gentiles.”

Jesus had taught his audience to uphold the Law of Moses (Gospel of Matthew 5:17), whereas Paul told his audience that the Law was irrelevant for the salvation of those who live under ‘Christ’:

There is no condemnation now for those who live in union with Christ Jesus … if Christ lives in you, … you have been put right with God … (Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:1, 10.)

But now God’s way of putting people right with himself has been revealed.  It has nothing to do with law, even though the Law of Moses and the prophets gave their witness to it (Paul’s Letter to the Romans 3:21).

It is indeed a ‘stretch’ to argue that any of the sayings of Jesus that one can quote from the Gospel books of the New Testament suggests that someone like Paul would ever be needed to unfold a hitherto hidden—or as yet unrevealed–‘Gospel of Jesus Christ’ after Jesus had finished the work given him by God:

[Jesus said to God:] “…I have shown your glory on earth; I have finished the work you gave me to do…” (Gospel of John 17:4)

And by the way, this was said by Jesus before the ‘crucifixion’ event, which is so central to Paul’s message. If Jesus had finished his work before the crucifixion event, then how could that supposed crucifixion be part of his “work” as given him by God?!

Paul crafted his message for non-Jews, “the Gentiles,” when Jesus was no longer amongst his followers. Thus, Jesus could not object to Paul’s re-invention of Jesus’ message for non-Jews. How is it that Paul had the qualification or authority to speak for Jesus and to ‘expand’ Jesus’ message—when Jesus had indicated that his prophetic teaching to his [Jewish] people was already complete?

To be continued, inshâ’Allah, in Part 5…

 

10 Comments

  • Reed

    Wed 3 Feb 2016 (24 Rabi Al Thani 1437) - 4:10 pm

    You wrote, “In the biblical record, there is no evidence that Jesus and his twelve apostles ever taught his message to the Gentiles.”

    In Acts 15, we see that the 12 apostles and the Jewish church sent representatives to the Gentiles with Paul and Barnabas:

    22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:

    The apostles and elders, your brothers,

    To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

    Greetings.

    24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

    Farewell.

  • Reed

    Fri 5 Feb 2016 (26 Rabi Al Thani 1437) - 5:09 am

    “As per God’s promised blessing (Genesis 12:2, 17:4, 17:5, 176; 28:3, 35:11, 48:4), the twelve tribes of Israel are called ‘nations’ in many places in the Bible.”

    Why do you say that the “nations” in the promised blessing to Abraham pertain only to the twelve tribes of Israel? Abraham had more than one son. What about Ishmael and his descendants? (And Abraham had still more sons.) They are also part of this promise. So the nations in these blessings do not refer to the twelve tribes of Israel alone but to all the nations that descended from Abraham. Isaac also had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau is not of the 12 tribes. In Genesis 35 and 48, the promise is to Jacob, so perhaps here it can be said that the nations refer to Israel. But from the examples you’ve given, it’s obvious that the term “the nations” can be either Israelites or nations that include Israelites and others. So, the meaning of the term depends on the context, and it cannot be said that it automatically refers to Israel.

  • Reed

    Fri 5 Feb 2016 (26 Rabi Al Thani 1437) - 8:46 am

    You can’t make a claim based on the English translation, but you need to look at the original languages.

    In Hebrew there are different words for what’s translated as nations: goy (goyim), ‘ammim, … In the Genesis verses above, goy is used 5 times and ammim 2 times. It’s interesting to see how the Septuagint (completed before the birth of Jesus) translators treated these words. According to the Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Vol 2, page 790 and following), the major word used to translate these words is ethnos. In about 1000 occurrences, it translates goy about 870 times and ‘ammim 130 times. Ethnos is used primarily for non-Jews. From this source, we read that Qumran writings has some variation, but usually the nations (non-Jews) are goyim, but sometimes called ‘ammim. In Rabbinic Judaism, goy takes on the meaning of non-Jew. Note that these linguistic usages are thousands of years old.

    According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, goyim can refer to Israel, but “more usually refers to nations, especially the surrounding pagan nations” (Vol 1, page 153).

  • Aataai Gazi Mahbub

    Fri 5 Feb 2016 (26 Rabi Al Thani 1437) - 10:39 am

    Dear friend,
    I believe you have much-knowledge on the Bible.

    The passage of Acts 15:22-29 must not be evidence that Jesus taught his message to the Gentiles. Even the apostles and the Jewish church leader did not say that they were writing the letter in the name of Jesus or inspired by him.

    If it is accurate that the apostles were agreed with Paul and the doctrine to preach gospel to the Gentiles, why didn’t Peter write a single word in favor of the Gentiles in his writings (1 Peter, 2 Peter)?
    Why didn’t John write a single word in favor of the Gentiles in his writings (1 John, 2 John and 3 John)?
    Did any apostle write a word welcoming the Gentiles? No.
    Another book “Hebrews”, the ninetieth book of the New Testament, did not place the Gentiles. It reminds us the missionary of Jesus was only for the Jews, not for the Gentiles. This book clearly mentions,
    “For it is clear that he (Jesus) did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.” (Hebrews 2:16)
    If it is accurate that Jesus` step brother James , the then Jewish church leader was agreed with Paul, why did he write against Paul’s doctrine in his writing named “James“? Why did he exclude the Gentiles in his mission addressing only the Jews (James 1:1)?
    So we may say that there is something wrong in the narrations of Acts. Contradictory narration can not be used as evidence.
    We have to keep in mind Jesus` teaching:
    “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)

  • Aataai Gazi Mahbub

    Fri 5 Feb 2016 (26 Rabi Al Thani 1437) - 10:45 am

    “But from the examples you’ve given, it’s obvious that the term “the nations” can be either Israelites or nations that include Israelites and others. So, the meaning of the term depends on the context, and it cannot be said that it automatically refers to Israel.”

    Dear friend,
    You are really an intelligent and educated Christian. I respect you.
    Suppose, you live in a community and you enter your home and say, “sons, come here”. Can I mean you are addressing all the sons of your community?

    You should focus the context in which the speaker is talking.
    When a Jew leader takes a task to liberate the Jewish people, his works should be interpreted within those people. Such instance was followed in the mission of Jesus who marked the Gentiles as “dog” and “swine”.

    We may look into the preaching style of Jesus` step-brother James. His style is:
    “Greetings from James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To God’s people who are scattered all over the world.” (James 1:1) (ERV)
    Here you must not mean those Gentiles who are scattered because of a war all over the world like Syrians, Iraqis. You should denote the verse according to its context.

  • Reed

    Fri 5 Feb 2016 (26 Rabi Al Thani 1437) - 12:53 pm

    I’ve already responded that James did not contradict Paul but was going against the distortion of Paul’s teachings. You seem to accept 2 Peter. In that case, Peter himself calls Paul a dear brother (3:15), therefore obviously supporting Paul’s teaching. As far as writing directly to Gentiles, John, the author of Revelations, included the church of Ephesus, which Paul also wrote to.

    I didn’t say that Acts 15 showed that Jesus taught the Gentiles. I said his authorized representatives confirmed Paul’s teaching to the Gentiles, and they had the authority to do so whether or not they had received explicit instruction on the matter. Jesus said to Peter (Matthew 16:18-19): 18″I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19″I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”… Elsewhere (Matthew 13:52) Jesus said, “He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.””

    The Islamic concept of bidah cannot be applied to Christianity. As can be seen, Peter was explicitly given the authority to make decisions on anything, even on matters he had not received instruction. And, in fact, every teacher who has God ruling in his heart can also bring forth new ideas and concepts.

  • Aataai Gazi Mahbub

    Fri 5 Feb 2016 (26 Rabi Al Thani 1437) - 2:16 pm

    “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations (all the nations),” (Mathew 28:19)

    dear friend,

    Suppose, we agree with you that here all nations or all the nations indicates all nations in the world. Accordingly, Jesus commanded the apostles to preach his gospel to all nations including the Gentiles. And the verse above is used and popularized as the great commission.

    If the verse was meant the great commission by Jesus for a Gentile missionary, why did Peter claim that he was instructed to preach gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10)? Did it mean that the great commission by Jesus was not true? Or did the verse indicate only the nations of Israel, not all nations?
    If Peter`s claim is true, Jesus` commission for the Gentiles is misunderstood.

    We read Peter`s confession:
    [Peter] said to [the people gathered in Cornelius’ house] “You yourselves know very well that a Jew is not allowed by his religion to visit or associate with Gentiles. But God has shown me that I must not consider any person ritually unclean or defiled. (Acts 10:28)

    It is noted that here Peter did not mention the reference of the great commission by Jesus as is explained by Christians. But he did take credit for the Gentile missionary.

    Again, Paul creates another problem. He clearly stated before leaders of the Jerusalem Council that Peter was not commissioned for a gentile mission; his preaching arena was only for the Jews. As he said,
    “On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised”. (Galatians 2:7)

    which one is true- the great commission by Jesus, Peter`s confession or Paul`s statement?

  • Reed

    Fri 5 Feb 2016 (26 Rabi Al Thani 1437) - 2:35 pm

    Let me approach this issue in two ways. First, because we have no certain evidence, I have to speculate, and I’m reminded of Luke 24 in which the resurrected Jesus appears before his disciples, who didn’t believe it was him. He stated:
    “44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
    45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

    “I told you while I was still with you.” Despite the fact that they had been with Jesus from the beginning, they really didn’t understand his teaching.

    Similarly, they didn’t initially understand his parting words of preaching the gospel to the entire world.

  • Reed

    Fri 5 Feb 2016 (26 Rabi Al Thani 1437) - 2:48 pm

    The second way I would approach this is through parallel with Islam. The overwhelming majority of Muslims believe that to go to paradise, one must accept Islam as presented by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and accept him as the final prophet. Yet we read in Surah 2:62: “Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” On the surface, this verse contradicts many other verses, but scholars have been able to resolve the apparent contradiction. In doing so, they didn’t say, Oh, there’s a contradiction, the Quran is false. Rather, they worked at resolving the contradiction. When I see anyone of any faith analyzing another religion, I seldom see an attempt at resolving what may be an apparent contradiction rather than a real one.

    Along these lines, I have read time and again that to be an Islamic scholar who can issue fatwas on the religion, one must, among other qualifications, be fluent in Arabic. Yet, I seldom see these qualifications of being fluent in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek among those who debate Christianity or argue about the nature of true Christianity. Without such similar qualifications, how can one determine for Christianity if there is a real contradiction or an apparent one?

  • Reed

    Fri 5 Feb 2016 (26 Rabi Al Thani 1437) - 3:13 pm

    One more note. Correct me if and where I’m wrong, but you are making this distinction of Jesus (pbuh) having a mission only for the Jews because you believe that Prophet Muhammad (pub) was the final prophet, Islam is the final religion, and Islam is the universal religion for all the nations. If the mission of Jesus (pbuh) becomes universal and he is considered the final prophet, then that is a threat to your belief.

    For myself, I accept that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) confirmed what came before, so there is no disagreement between his message and that of Jesus (pbuh). I also believe that there is no real difference between the message of Paul and that of Jesus (pbuh). Rather, Paul has been grossly misinterpreted. He never preached a divine Christ. In 1 Timothy 2:5, he writes, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” He clearly calls Jesus a man, and he is constantly comparing him to Adam. There is no need to compare God to anyone, so he cannot consider Jesus to be divine. Rather, he’s steeped in one particular strand of Judaism that believed in a glorified (and created) messiah. Here are some excerpts of that type of Judaism: In 1 Enoch 49.2, the glory and might of the messiah would be forever. From Pesikta Derav Kahana (Supplement 6), “The splendor of the garment He puts on the messiah will stream forth from world’s end to world’s end. . . . Blessed is the hour in which the messiah was created! Blessed is the womb whence he came . . . whose lips open with blessing and peace, whose diction is pure delight, whose garments are glory and majesty … the utterance of whose tongue is pardon and forgiveness … whose supplication during his study is purity and holiness.” In the Testament of Levi (18:2-14), “Then the Lord shall raise up a new priest … And he shall execute righteous judgment. . . . And he shall be magnified in the world. He shall shine forth as the sun on the earth. . . . And the glory of the Most High shall be uttered over him. . . . And he shall give to the saints to eat from the tree of life.”

    You wrote elsewhere: “That’s why John Dominic Crossan, a high-profile scholar of the historical Jesus, says that when you “start with Paul, you will see Jesus incorrectly; start with Jesus and you will see Paul differently.””

    If you start with the modern Christian interpretation of Paul’s writings, you will see Jesus incorrectly. But if you start with a good understanding of Judaism and follow that with studying the teachings of Jesus (pbuh), then you can “see Paul differently” and understand his real message.

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