Contrary to popular opinion, Sha’ul of Tarsus, did not “convert” to a new faith called Christianity, but remained fully Jewish; keeping the name that was bestowed upon him early in his life. There was no conversion or renaming for Sha’ul or for any of the other tens of thousands of Jewish followers of Yeshua in the first century.
Many misunderstandings of Sha’ul’s words exist today. These misunderstandings appear to support a position that Sha’ul severed his relationship to Torah, declaring he no longer has need of it, and effectively divorcing himself from what is central to Judaism. Many scholars and commentators reflect an idea that Sha’ul began a “new” faith, devoid of Torah. “We do not need the Law (Torah), we are under grace now!” or some similar statements abound within many church communities, leading many to view Torah as antiquated or done away with. Much of this antinomian thought is attributed to misunderstanding of the teachings of Sha’ul. It would be beneficial to examine what Sha’ul said about Torah (Law) and how he applied it in his life.
For example, Sha’ul writes (Romans 7:12), “So the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous, and good.” Also, Romans 7:22, “For I delight in the Law of God, in my inner being.” I Timothy 1:8 says, “Now we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully.”
Sha’ul’s very life demonstrated a life lived in keeping with God’s commands, not an antinomian lifestyle, but a life lived in obedience to Torah. Sha’ul was not ignorant of or divorced from keeping Jewish traditions, as long as they were not in opposition to or considered more important than what was written in Tanakh, the only Scripture Sha’ul had available to him. Sha’ul kept Jewish identity by observing relevant customs and traditions and continued to worship in a synagogue (Acts 13:14; Acts 14:1); observing Shabbat and faithfully keeping the appointed times of the Levitical calendar (Acts 16:13, Acts 18:4, Acts 20:16). He obeyed laws and observed customs, offering sacrifices in the Temple as an act of his participation in the Nazarite vow (Acts 21:26), per the teachings of Torah (Num 6:14-15). He paid for the sacrifices for four other men who were under the vow, thereby demonstrating his agreement with Torah, not teaching against it. In addition, Sha’ul kept kosher according to Torah and remained a Pharisee. (Acts 23:6)
Sha’ul did not teach people to forsake their Jewishness and become something they were not created to be. He did not tell Jews to forsake God’s Law and Jewish customs and join a new faith. He did not call for an exodus from synagogue life or abandonment of keeping Sabbath. Rather, Sha’ul upheld Torah’s teachings for a people set apart by God. That said, Sha’ul did acknowledge a difference of applications of Torah for Jewish and Gentile believers, but more importantly acknowledged salvation for both groups through faith in Yeshua, and through His grace and mercy. Gentiles did not need to “convert” to Judaism and take upon themselves the entire yoke of Torah to be acceptable to God, and neither did a Jewish person need to forsake Torah and their Jewishness to be part of the household of faith of Yeshua.
In light of the evidence, Sha’ul is very often wrongly portrayed as the poster child for a Torah-less faith. A brief examination of his statements affirms the goodness of Torah, along with his personal practices and convictions.
To be continued