Reflections for 11/18: Early Christianity as a Rejection of Judaism?

By calling what happened to Saul/Paul a conversion the editors of the CSB seem to argue that Saul/Paul changes from a Jew to a Christian in the same way a modern person (e.g. St. Edith Stein) might abandon Judaism and then become a Christian.  This heading therefore supports the perspective that Christianity and Judaism were radically different and that the two were in conflict from the start.  However, Oliver and Zetterholm persuasively argue that certain things taken for granted as indicative of a shift from Judaism to Christianity by the followers of “The Way” (Paul’s self-identification and Peter’s staying with a tanner, for example) are misunderstood and do not in fact indicate a rejection of Judaism by these people. A better header, therefore, might be “Saul’s Calling” since it is like a prophet being called to proclaim something within Judaism not someone leaving Judaism.

Christians may be tempted to see Christianity as “replacing” Judaism if they see Christianity’s rise as coming from a rejection of Judaism.  They may even go so far as to understand Jews as having been rejected by God once and for all.  This is not in the spirit of Vatican II and is dangerous thinking which has led to generations of anti-Semitism which in large part culminated with the Holocaust.   If we take Oliver and Zetterholm’s perspective Christianity is simply a movement within Judaism at this time.  That would lead us to understand Judaism as still “true” (perhaps incomplete) and to see Jews as a chosen people with a special relationship with God.  Others may be able to access salvation, but the Jews were never rejected.  Jewish followers of Jesus, if Oliver and Zetterholm’s perspective is valid, at this time would expect people to convert to Judaism first or to accept the validity of Judaism’s fundamental teachings.


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