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Who was Paul? This essay places the apostle within his Diaspora social context of synagogue communities, gentile Judaizers, Roman authorities, hostile pagans and pagan gods, to reconstruct his mission and message. By turning the nations from their gods to his god, Paul was confirmed in his conviction that Christ was about to return to defeat cosmic powers; to accomplish that signature eschatological miracle, the resurrection of the dead; and to gather the twelve tribes of Israel and the seventy gentile nations under the universal sovereignty of God the father.
Much current NT scholarship holds that Paul conducted a ‘Law-free’ mission to Gentiles. In this view, Paul fundamentally repudiated the ethnic boundaries created and maintained by Jewish practices. The present essay argues the contrary: Paul's principled resistance to circumcising Gentiles precisely preserves these distinctions ‘according to the flesh’, which were native to Jewish restoration eschatology even in its Pauline iterations. Paul required his pagans not to worship their native gods—a ritual and a Judaizing demand. Jerusalem's temple, traditionally conceived, gave Paul his chief terms for conceptualizing the Gentiles' inclusion in Israel's redemption. Paul's was not a ‘Law-free’ mission.
The Church endorsed by Constantine in the early fourth century represented a form of Christianity that drew most directly upon the traditions and Scriptures of Israel. To understand imperial Christianity's policies toward Jews and Judaism requires an appreciation of its foundational history in the second century, when the younger community fought doctrinal diversity within and persecution without. During this earlier period, the seeds of orthodoxy's anti-Judaism, which flourished especially from the late fourth century onward, developed and became established. Orthodoxy's awareness of and insistence on a historical connection between Judaism and Christianity had expressed itself both theologically and socially in various ways from the second to fifth centuries. Religious and social mixing between different types of Jews and Christians, between Christians of different sorts, and between Christians, Jews, and pagans all continued. Church and state collaborated in the Christianization of late Roman culture; however, no immediate correspondence between law, theology, and society can be presumed.