In the book Reinventing Paul, John S. Gager proposed the admittedly novel idea that Paul taught two paths to eternal salvation. For Jews, this path remains unchanged from the Old Covenant. For Gentiles (aka. Greeks), this path is rooted in faith in Jesus Christ. “Paul does not conceive of Israel’s salvation with reference to Christ,” wrote Gager (46).
The path for salvation Gager posited for the Jews was not entirely clear. He cited a fourth century Rabbi’s opinion that “[t]he word of the Lord went forth in two aspects, slaying the heathen who would not accept it, but giving life to Israel who accepted the Torah” (56). In a negative way, Gager more often advanced the idea that Israel is not saved through faith in Christ (e.g. 46).
To stick close to the three-to-four page parameter of this assignment, I will just present a few of the more glaring errors in Gager’s conclusions. These should suffice to dismantle his premises that Jews can attain salvation apart from Christ.
Paul only preached to Gentiles in the synagogues?
One of Gager’s mantras is the claim that Paul’s audience was invariably Gentile, and therefore when Paul rejected such Israelite practices like circumcision, he only meant it applied to Gentiles (e.g. 52). Gager insisted Paul only ever focused on Gentiles (51, 68) to support his theory that Paul was not condemning OT ordinances for Jews since his audience was always Gentile. Yet Gager does not address Acts 18:4 which reads: “And [Paul] argued in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks.” Furthermore, Gager never considers that the reason Paul rejects OT ordinances for Gentiles could be because they neither save Gentiles nor Jews.
Christ not the Messiah for Jews?
Gager denied that Paul understood Jesus as the Messiah anticipated by the Jews. “For Paul, Jesus is neither a new Moses, nor the Messiah, he is not the climax of . . . God’s dealings with Israel, but he is the fulfillment of God’s promises concerning the Gentiles” (142). This is problematic. For example, in Acts 17, Paul preached in the synagogues “of the Jews” (v.1) that “[t]his Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (v.3). This resulted in some of them being persuaded as well as “many of the devout Greeks” (v.4). The context distinguishes part of the audience from the Greeks who were also there. Both parties were persuaded. To validate the notion that Jews were included as the intended audience of Paul’s preaching of Jesus as the Christ anticipated by the Jews, we can continue in Acts 17 when Paul and Silas preached to the Berean Jews. The Bereans searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul said about Christ was true. These Berean Jews, again distinct from the “Greeks” (v.12) present, believed.
Gager’s dismissal of Galatians 3:28
One of the more straightforward verses supporting the traditionalist view is Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is stated immediately after Paul teaches that baptism unites one to Christ. Gager denied that the Jew has any such connection to Jesus Christ, and certainly wouldn’t be bound to Christian baptism.
Gager expends few words on this verse, dismissing it by quoting his theological ally on this matter, Lloyd Gaston. Gaston says the purpose of this verse is to affirm that “as women do not need to become men . . . so Jews do not need to become Gentiles nor do Gentiles need to become Jews” (90). Gager adds: “It is a formula of inclusion, not exclusion” (90). Gager is correct that the verse is one of inclusion. But it does not mean what Gager argues throughout the book – that salvation for Jews is not in Christ. Gager’s brief dismissal does not reflect what the text says. The text says the Jews are among the “all” who are “one in Christ,” which is damning to Gager’s position. He gives these words in the verse no attention.
The irony in Gager’s escape here is that he insisted that traditionalists, ever looking at the text with “Western” (51) or “modern” (e.g. 72) bias “complete [Paul’s] sentences for him, to supply missing words, and . . . make explicit what he leaves unspoken” (23, cf. 110). Yet, this is precisely what Gager does to the text of Romans 3:28. The traditionalist view is consistent with the text. Jews are included – in Christ.
Gager’s dismissal of Romans 3:30
I will include the pertinent Greek words in the verse that reveal the flaw in Gager’s interpretation. Using Gager’s translation, Romans 3:30 reads: “God will justify the circumcised out of faith (ek pistis) and the uncircumcised through faith (dia pistis).” In verses 22, 24, and 26, Paul described faith as being “in Jesus.” However, Gager denies that verse 30’s two mentions of faith both refer to faith in Christ. He claims the different prepositions preceding the word faith indicate the different kinds of faith necessary to Jews and to Gentiles. He does not believe Paul is simply using different ways of saying both Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith in Christ.
Gager wrote: “[T]he use of different prepositions (ek and dia) with pistis points to different paths for Jews and Gentiles . . .” (121). The rule Gager imposed on the text is that ek pistis is faith for Jews and dia pistis is faith for Gentiles.
But this rule becomes extremely problematic when applying it to other verses. We see Paul using the term ek pistis in both Romans and Galatians to specifically refer to faith “in Christ” (e.g. Rom. 5:21, Gal. 3:22). Paul also uses the term dia pistis elsewhere to mean faith “in Christ” (e.g. Eph. 2:8). In other words, citing the Greek in Romans 3:30 only hurts Gager’s position because Paul used the terms ek pistis and dia pistis interchangeably to mean faith in Christ.