Circumcision and the Gentile Mission

Larry Hurtado comments on Paula Fredriksen’s interesting insights on why Paul was completely opposed to Gentile circumcision:

One of the strong points in Fredriksen’s previous book on Paul, echoed in this book too, is that Paul’s opposition to requiring male circumcision of his former-pagan converts was a principled stand based on OT predictions that in the last days the gentile nations would come to the God of Israel, as gentiles (e.g., Zechariah 8:20-23), not as proselytes to Israel.  So, Paul insisted that his former pagans must not undergo proselyte conversion, for this would go against the divine intention.  She is correct also to insist that James and the Jerusalem leadership were basically on board with this.  And, quite plausibly in my view, contends that the demand by opponents to Paul that pagan converts should undergo circumcision was a somewhat later innovation, and not the position of the Jerusalem leadership.  But I missed discussion of Paul’s frequent insistence that his full-scale gentile mission was his own special task, and that he may well have even seen himself, as Johannes Munck proposed, as personally and singularly deputized by God to bring about the predicted ingathering (the “fullness”) of the nations (Romans 11:25).  That is, I think that Paul saw himself as what Munck called a salvation-historical figure in his own right.

This is part of a larger review by the late Dr. Hurtado of Dr. Fredriksen’s When Christians were Jews: The First Generation (Yale, 2018). You can read the full review by clicking here.

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