Sundays With St. Paul: Crises of Identity…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

For our discussion this week, we were asked to look at Paul’s somewhat negative view of the law in Ephesians 2:15; “[Christ] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace…”[1] We were asked to consider why Paul appears to have such a negative view of the law. Why would he say the law has been abolished when Christ explicitly declares in Matt. 5:17 that he came to fulfill it?

I had said that if we take into account the preceding verse, we find a clue. “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” What was circumcision? It was an outward expression of Israel’s unique, “set apart” relationship with God. Yet, as has been discussed before, it seems to have been a sign of national identity, which of course meant that if you were a Gentile, you must take on all the procedures of Jewish identity to become a member of the people of Israel.

So what I think Paul is doing in Ephesians, which appears to be a mostly Gentile community, is preventing them from separating over any issues of national identity (i.e. circumcision/non-circumcision). This works in both directions: neither Roman national identity, nor Israelite national identity. Instead, because of Christ, “both groups [are] one” because the wall of division (commandment of circumcision) has been removed.

Ever since our discussion, though, I’ve been wondering what this would have looked like for the average Gentile? After believing for most – if not all – of one’s life in many gods and goddesses, what would it be like to suddenly focus on one? And what if one was aware of the requirements for becoming Jewish? Now imagine another Jew, Paul, coming around and saying this one requirement was no longer necessary in order to believe in and follow the one God of Israel. It now meant one was no longer either Jew or Gentile; it meant one was now absent of national identity.

Imagine yourself as a Gentile in 1st Century Rome (or within the Roman Empire); what would you think of the Jewish people? What would you think of your own national identity? Now imagine a Jew wandering around telling people to believe in the God of the Jews, but not to subscribe to many of the ordinary customs. “Instead,” he says, “believe and follow the Messiah.” How might you react? What are your thoughts as you listen to this Jew named Paul?


[1] New Revised Standard Version

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Jeremy

Cherokee / Whovian / Sherlockian / Aspiring Auror / Lover of Jesus, Scripture, and creativity / MATS Student at George Fox Seminary.

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