Saturday, November 16, 2013

followers of Jesus as a "third race": a "deeply Jewish way of looking at the world"

Among the other buzz-words which the debate about Paul’s Jewish ‘identity’ has generated, the notion of a ‘third race’ – the followers of Jesus as a new corporate entity, distinct from both ‘Jews’ and ‘Gentiles’ – has been both canvassed and attacked in the last generation. This brings the discussion of ‘identity’ into sharp focus.

..The suggestion of a 'third race' has provoked strong reactions. The editors of a recent collection of essays on ‘Paul and Judaism’, discovering that one of their contributors actually believes more or less what Sanders had argued thirty years ago, describe this in the shocked tones of an elegant lady discovering that her favourite nephew is going to marry a chorus girl. ‘Bird,’ they say, ‘actually thinks that the new group of Jesus believers could be conceived of as a third race.’ (Footnote:The implication seems to be: How did that man get in here without  a postmodern wedding garment?)...

...This opening statement in 1 Corinthians [1:22-25] already means that those who belong to the Messiah are defined, are given an ‘identity’ if we must use the term, that is (a) rooted in Israel’s Messiah, and hence in that sense inalienably ‘Jewish’, but (b)redefined around the crucified and risen Messiah and hence in that sense inalienably ‘scandalous’ to Jews. Rooted and redefined: continuity and discontinuity. Those are the classic marks of Paul’s thought and life. And those are the ways in which he thought of the Messiah’s people. They remain Abraham’s family: ‘our fathers’, he says to the mostly gentile Corinthian Christians, came out of Egypt with Moses. They once were ‘Gentiles’ but are now no longer (12.2). But for Jews, like Paul, the rule is: ‘I am crucified with the Messiah’. Scandalous. A third entity.
         "Circumcision, you see, is nothing; neither is uncircumcision.  What matters is new creation.  Peace and mercy on everyone who lines up by that standard--yes, on God's Israel." (Galatians 6:14-16 ).
...I submit that it is only the extreme post-Holocaust reluctance to say anything like this that has prevented writers on Paul from drawing the obvious conclusion: he saw the people of the crucified Messiah as having a Messiah-shaped identity which marked them of from Jew and Greek alike..

...We should note--a point usually missed--that the very idea of a 'third race'  itself presupposes a deeply Jewish way of looking at the world...You only say 'third race' if you are starting with, and in a measure reinscribing as well as transcending, that basic duality..
...Once any branches, whether Jewish or Gentile, are firmly in the tree, they are, for Paul, on absolutely equal footing, and must learn to live as such...But the way they get there, and the account that one must give of the process, remains an important differentiation, which finally gives the lie to all the slurs about 'supersession'..
          ...for Paul, when a Jew believes in 'the one raised from the dead Jesus our Lord'  (Romans 4:24) this constitutes an act of 'resurrection,' whereas when a Gentile believes Paul sees that as an event of 'new creation.'...the new particularity is the very thing God promised to Abraham in the first place..[Paul insisted that] when a Gentile believes the gospel, that person is incorporated into the same essentially Jewish olive tree.   pp. 1447-49, Paul and The Faithfulness of God


N.T. Wright on Christians as a “Third Race” in PFG

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