Over the next three Mondays – since Mondays are, after all, Theological Mondays – we will be exploring Pamela Eisenbaum’s book, Paul Was Not a Christian; beginning with an introductory post (present), two summary posts laying out Eisenbaum’s case, and a concluding post with some critical reflections of the good and the bad in her arguments.
Paul Was Not a Christian is by nature a polemical book and so we’ll treat it as such.
The Christian Perspective: The Apostle Paul was in a previous life (as Saul) a legalistic Jewish Pharisee of the strictest sort – he was a zealot. But he was also a man plagued with a guilty conscience who endeavored by all works to attain a status of “righteous” in the eyes of God, that is, until he had an encounter with Jesus in the famous road to Damascus incident.
At that point Paul came face to face with his own sin and the sin of Judaism. He discovered that justification was attained by believing in Jesus and not by religious works of the Law. Paul repented of his previous life in sin and confessed Jesus as Lord. Turning to Jesus meant turning away from Judaism, i.e. Paul converted from the sinful works based religion of Judaism to the faith based religion of Christianity.
That Perspective Questioned: This scenario I just described is, according to Eisenbaum, an extremely prejudicial reading of Paul. Filled with typical Western Christian biases, we have become so accustomed to thinking of Paul a certain way that when we read the scriptures we read into them our own preconceived notions.
Contrary to our own prejudicial reading of Paul, Eisenbaum argues that Paul was not nor did he ever convert from Judaism to Christianity since, to point out the obvious, the word “Christian” was completely unknown to him. We should rather speak of Paul not as a man “converted” from one religion to another, but as a man who received a “call” much the same way that Jeremiah or Isaiah in the Old Testament were “called”.
Paul’s encounter with the Jewish Messiah led him to believe that it was now the eschatological time for the nations to come into the fold (thus his title as “Apostle to the Gentiles”). “If all people were potentially children of God, Jews and Gentiles must now be considered part of the same family”, and this way of talking about Paul, thinks Eisenbaum, “can be used productively for thinking about religious pluralism.”
Next week we will summarize Eisenbaum’s arguments for How Paul Became a Christian. The following week we will summarize the case she makes for claiming that Paul lived and died a Jew. The final week we will conclude this review with some critical reflections.
 Paul Was Not a Christian, p.2