How Jewish Was Paul?

A person is either Jewish or not Jewish, and few actually believe that Paul was not. Hyam Maccoby is virtually alone in his opinion that Paul was a gentile. 1 However, if we can speak of the extent to which one demonstrates Jewish identity as that person's Jewishness," perhaps it is Paul's Jewishness that people wish to call into question.

Perhaps most telling is what Paul himself had to say about being Jewish. Here is how he described himself: "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the He-brews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." (Philippians 3:5-6)

What did it mean to be "a Hebrew of the Hebrews"? Hebrews was a specialized term that referred to Jews who spoke Aramaic and worshiped at Hebrew-speaking congregations, as opposed to Hellenists who spoke and worshiped in Greek. A Hebrew of the Hebrews indicates an Aramaic-speaking, observant Jew whose parents were also Hebrews. Hebrews outside the land in places such as Tarsus-a city located in what today is Turkey-were immigrants who kept the more observant lifestyle of their place of origin. 2

Paul also wrote: "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today." (Acts 22:3)

Paul was educated at the feet of one of the most eminent Pharisaic rabbis of his time. In those days, leading rabbis headed schools in which they taught their perspectives and views to disciples. Gamaliel either succeeded the famous Hillel as head of the school of Hillel or headed his own school. 3 He sat on the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of ancient Israel, and had a reputation of great piety. The Mishnah 4 states: "When Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, the glory of the Law ceased and purity and separateness died." The Pharisees were the separated ones. This accolade was tantamount to saying that Gamaliel was the last, and perhaps the best, exemplar of Pharisaism.


  1. Hyam Maccoby, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986).
  2. See F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), pp. 42-43.
  3. Ibid., p. 50 n. 30.
  4. Mishnah Sotah 9:15.

This article originally appeared in The Y'shua Challenge booklet.

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Comments

Dovid Nochum

What sheker are you imparting here?

Lawrence

The article states that Paul was Hebrew but spoke in armaic and worshiped at Hebrew speaking congregations. Was armaic the more verbal language and did the translation, when Paul preached effect any change on the interpretation of Hebraic understanding?
-4

Matt

All you have done is acknowledge that there is an opposing view, you have not come close to addressing one of the most embarrassing portions of Christianity. The late Maccoby's argument is nothing new, The Ebionites rejected Paul as well as hundreds of "secular" historians and bible scholars. You are also being unfair in saying he "is alone" in thinking Paul was lying, the Ebionites felt this way, modern scholars concur and moreover he does not rule out the possibility that he was half Jewish or the son of "god-fearers". "You Guys" have a tendency to propose some historical, in depth or intellectual argument but have nothing to back your selves up with. This is unfair to prospective converts, it is propaganda the listener interprets as a statement of fact, as though you have completely resolved the issue.
+5

Trey

I'm not exactly sure how Paul was lying according to Matt's statement. Hundreds of scholars? Who are they? If you approach the text from a hermeneutic of suspicion then you’re not going to take the various strong statements made by Paul himself at face value. Further, Matt assumes this is nothing more than a tale purported by a man whom scholars DO believe would have been a well-known convert at the time, but prefers to take the word of a dubious and insignificant band of Gnostics who are nothing more than a footnote to history, if that. I think this exposes a fatal flaw in Matt's position. I think we have good reason to accept Paul as a Jew who found Christ in Jesus. New converts can be encouraged in the reliability of scripture.
-1

kriptobrain

Paul was not a Jew or from the tribe of Juda. ". . For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin." Romans 11:1 and see Philippians 3:5 "Circumcised the eighth day, of then stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;" Paul was born to the tribe of Benjamin and not to the tribe of Juda and not to the "nations" (often translated gentile). All Israel was not refered to as "Jews". After Israel divided, the tribes of Juda ans Benjamin were referred to as the House of Juda, but Paul was not a "Jew". In the verse quoted in the article, Paul was not saying that he was from the tribe of Juda, but was of the house of Juda which included the tribe he was born to - Benjamin.

Chase

I agree one hundred percent with what you're saying. There is a huge misconception when it comes to God's chosen people, and the word "Jew". There are ten tribes that are Israelites that aren't even mentioned anymore, and are the lost sheep of Israel that Jesus was sent to reinstate God's covenant with. When the day comes, we will all know who we are, and what tribe we belong to, and you already have that step ahead. I hope too soon know what tribe I belong to, or if I even belong to one. I would like to share in God's covenant though.

Fish Mooney

Acts 21:39 ¶ Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”
Acts 22:3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.
-6

Slater

I am not being disrespectful but some Christians are one of the biggest hypocrites I have ever seen or heard of. Plus some are liars including the ones in this site that say Paul is Jewish and that only a few people believe he is not. Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. But I know most of you will ignore and disbelieve in that verse which will make you into hypocrites if you aren't a hypocrite already. If your choosing what to believe and what not to believe then why dont you just become Aethists or invent a new religion, or creat a new Bible deleting the verses you want to disbelieve in and call it "The New edisted Bible for Trinity Christians" that way there wont be any contradictions in the Bible you believe in.
+6

Rich

Slater, It's recognized by virtually every Bible scholar that Paul was Jewish. The burden of proof is on you if you say that he wasn't.
-9

John Jahn

Paul was a gentile; Jesus was one of many self-proclaimed "messiahs" that pepper Jewish history. And Brickner is himself a gentile. Jews for Jesus should be called "Baptist Hoax for Converting Jews"
+1

David

Now that's hellarious!!!
+1

jackie

The New Testament world was under Roman occupation and the Romans forced their new measurement of time on everyone. They changed days to start at midnight, had new years, divided them into months, not cycles of the moon, and named the months and days of the week after their pagan gods. GOD'S "first day of the week" is from sunset Saturday till sunset Sunday evening.

Therefore Acts 20:7 was on Saturday evening and Paul left Toras on Sunday morning. Paul did not rest, worship, keep Holy, of celebrate the discovery of our Savior's empty tomb on Sunday morning. Paul was an observant Jew as was Jesus.
+5

Bako

Slater,

Thank you for taking the time to read through this article and you great interest in Paul and Jesus in general, although unfortunately it is negative.

You are absolutely right that many Christians are hypocrites!
In fact Paul himself calls out Peter for hypocrisy, and who was the Apostle Peter? The leader of the Church.
The verse in question, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, which you are quoting out of context, does not support your claim that Paul was not what your idea of a "jew" is.

What is intended here is that Paul behaved "Jewish" by submitting to Jewish law around the Jews. Not Paul altered his true identity which is centered in Jesus Christ, as he notes.
+1

Sharmon

The Law of Moses is very much good. It is the beginning of creation. This is the existence of mankind and his fall through Satan and rise through Christ. Between was God, spending time grooming man. God didn't fail, but was rejected. Yes, disobedience is as rejection. Call rejection by action, not words.

Jamal

If your talking about a Jew as coming from descendents of Judah then no he wasn't a Jew, but a Benjamite. If your talking about a Jew as being a Hebrew then yes he was a Jew.

Chase

When Solomon died and his son started over taxing the Israelites, ten tribes of the twelve tribes split off and were captured by the Assyrians, and God said he divorced them. The only tribes that remained we're Judah, Levi (priests), and Benjamin. There were Pharisees who tried to claim they were from the house of Judah, but Jesus saw through it and told them they were murderers like their father. From the beginning of time, evil tried to replicate what is good to confuse, and to deceive. Jesus told the Pharisee woman who asked for her daughter to be healed, that he was here to tend to the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus was God's answer to reinstate his covenant. To deny Jesus as a "Jew", is a probable sign that you come from a line of pretenders (Pharisees). When Paul saw Jesus, he knew he was his messiah. And Paul knew he was a Benjamite. Not a Jew. I hope that one day I discover I inherit this covenant through relation to a tribe of Israel, and if I do I will call it by it's true name

Fish Mooney

The ten tribes were not really 'lost' many of them came south. In the NT, Anna is from the tribe of Asher. To this day Jewish people know if they are from Levi or not. The woman you are referring to in Mt. 15 was Canaanite, not a Pharisee! And see my quotes earlier, Paul identified as a Jew in the book of Acts. Israelite, Jew, Hebrew - all refer to the people descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
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