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).
…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).
- to ‘the 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…