The Jewish Context Of Paul’s Gentile Mission -- By: James C. Miller

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 58:1 (NA 2007)
Article: The Jewish Context Of Paul’s Gentile Mission
Author: James C. Miller

The Jewish Context Of Paul’s Gentile Mission

James C. Miller


Luke consistently portrays Paul going first to a synagogue to preach when entering a new location and only later turning to the Gentiles. Many scholars contest this depiction, claiming that the apostle to the Gentiles would not have preached to Jews. Luke’s portrayal of Paul on this point, therefore, must be a product of Luke’s theology rather than a reflection of Paul’s actual practice. On the basis of evidence drawn from the argument of Romans, this essay contends that Paul’s apostleship consisted of bringing the Gentile peoples alongside the Jewish people as one people in united praise of God. As such, the nature of Paul’s task necessitated working with Jews whenever possible. Such an understanding of Paul’s calling not only requires rethinking common understandings of what ‘apostle to the Gentiles’ meant, it also lends credence to Luke’s depiction of Paul’s missionary practice.

1. Introduction

After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apolonia they came to Thessalonica where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you’. (Acts 17:1-3 NRSV)

This description of Paul’s activity in Thessalonica corresponds with Luke’s consistent depictions of Paul’s missionary practice found in the Acts of the Apostles (13:5, 14; 14:1; 16:13; 17:10, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8; 28:17, 23). In each case, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, makes it his

custom when arriving in a new city to go first to the Jews – and only after preaching to them, to turn to the Gentiles.

For many Pauline scholars, this portrayal plays an integral role in their understanding of Paul’s missionary methods.1 For example, Mark D. Nanos finds in Paul what he labels ‘the divine two-step pattern’. This patte...

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