“Zeal Without Knowledge”: For What Did Paul Criticize His Fellow Jews In Romans 10:2-3? -- By: Dane C. Ortlund

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 73:1 (Spring 2011)
Article: “Zeal Without Knowledge”: For What Did Paul Criticize His Fellow Jews In Romans 10:2-3?
Author: Dane C. Ortlund


“Zeal Without Knowledge”: For What Did Paul Criticize His Fellow Jews In Romans 10:2-3?

Dane C. Ortlund

Biblical Studies

Dane Ortlund (Ph.D., Wheaton College Graduate School) is Senior Editor in the Bible Division at Crossway in Wheaton, Ill.

I. Introduction

Dscussions continue to proliferate concerning the nature of Paul’s break with the Judaism in which he had been immersed from youth. A key component to this area of investigation is the precise nature of Paul’s criticism of his fellow Jews as he looked back on their life, which was once his. One fruitful window into this discussion is Paul’s use of “zeal”-language in describing the Judaism he had known from the inside. Paul describes his own pre-Damascus1 life in terms of zeal in Gal 1:14 (“being extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers”) and Phil 3:6 (“as to zeal, persecuting the church”). In Rom 10:2 Paul looks from the vantage point of his new life in Christ not at his own past but at his fellow Jews: “They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”2 It is this latter text with which we deal in this essay, concentrating on the first three verses of Rom 10 en route to understanding precisely what Paul means when he says that his fellow countrymen possess zeal but not knowledge.

Utilizing a distinction made by some, though mindful that any strict disjunction between these categories is artificial, we approach this text asking whether the zeal mentioned by Paul has primarily a “horizontal” or “vertical” denotation.3

Is the “zeal for God” of Rom 10:2 preponderantly a zeal that seeks to obey and thus contribute to one’s own standing before God (vertical) or a zeal that seeks to protect the ethnic set-apartness of the Jewish nation (horizontal)? One must bear in mind the salutary reminders of some that “vertical” and “horizontal” dimensions to Paul’s thought ought not to be played off against each other as mutually exclusive options.4 After all, circumcision, dietary regulations, and sabbatarianism were themselves, for the Jew, acts of obedience as well as actions that set them off from Gentiles. Still, with appropriate cautions against artificial bifurcations in...

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