The Traditions of our Fathers

14 Oct

So a little over a year ago I made the argument that Paul wasn’t a Pharisee (which he claims in Philipeans 3:5) based on his apparent ignorance of Hebrew. I inferred this from his argument in Romans 10:

9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

11As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (Isaiah 28:16) 

12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,

13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Joel 2:32)

Here Paul’s argument only makes sense if Joel 2:32 actually says the word “lord”. He implies that the “name of the lord” that does the saving when it’s spoken is “Jesus”. Joel 2:32 actually says the name of the god of the Jews: YHWH. In the LXX, however, this is replaced with the word “lord” (κυριος in Greek; and it’s actually Joel 3:5 in the LXX). This is the traditional Jewish circumlocution of pronouncing The Name YHWH. This means that Paul was reading from a version of Joel that had “lord” instead of YHWH, more than likely the LXX in order for his argument to make any sense.

From this I made the connection that Paul wasn’t a Pharisee, since Pharisees were trained in Hebrew.

On the other hand, Paul does use a phrase that implies at least a kinship with Pharisaic ideals. He mentions his “zeal” for the “traditions of [his] fathers” (υπαρχων των πατρικων μου παραδοσεων – lit. the still extant traditions of my fathers) in Galatians 1:14. Josephus uses a similar phrase when describing the Pharisees:

Antiquities of the Jews 13.10.6

What I would now explain is this, that the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers (παραδοσεως των πατερων). And concerning these things it is that great disputes and differences have arisen among them, while the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious to them, but the Pharisees have the multitude on their side.

Here Josephus uses “traditions of our fathers” to mean the Oral Torah which eventually became the Talmud. Paul’s disdain for the laws of Moses seems to stem from a Sadducean interpretation of the law. As I understand it, the Pharisees were more liberal about following the law as opposed to the Sadducees. A Pharisee wouldn’t have considered the laws of Moses a “curse” (Galatians 3:10, 13) but instead would have simply relaxed its standards. It would be like a liberal Christian all of the sudden becoming a militant atheist. Militancy breed militancy; an all-or-nothing view of the universe. Thus Paul’s total abrogation of the laws of Moses must have come from a more conservative branch of Judaism – one like the Sadducees. The more analogous situation would be going from a conservative Christian to a militant atheist.

It doesn’t seem as though Paul is using “traditions of our fathers” to refer to the Oral Torah, but as a generic term for Judaism.


Posted by on October 14, 2010 in paul, pharisees, sadducees, YHWH, YHWH pronunciation


3 responses to “The Traditions of our Fathers

  1. Rich Griese

    October 15, 2010 at 5:00 am

    Dear J. Quinton,

    Do you know if Paul is mentioned by anyone outside the christian group itself? Are there any Roman or Jewish writers that mention his, I mean as contemporaries not later? Do we know if paul was a single historical character, or is it possible that he could be a composite character? For example, there are some pauline letters in the canon that now are believed to be written by someone else, yet, before that they were all considered to be written by ONE person. Now, the paul character, as seen view the letters, is acknowledged to be more than one. One for the REAL letters, and at least one other for the OTHER ones?

    If you could post me back with any information that you know of that talks specifically about historians that have examined the paul character to determine if he is an actual person, or more of a legendary character that was composited later I would be appreciative.


  2. J. Quinton

    October 16, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    There doesn't seem to be any contemporaries of Paul who knew about him. Well there is the letter between Paul and Seneca… but that one is a forgery 🙂

    Other than that, Clement of Rome and Ignatius make a passing reference to Paul in their letters.

    As far as scholars who think that Paul is a composite, I think this is a given due to the presence of at least two “Pauls” in the New Testament. There are some scholars who think that our current Paul is a product of the 2nd century (courtesy of Jake Jones IV) and/or that Paul is really a cipher for Simon Magus (Dutch Radicals).

  3. beowulf2k8

    October 19, 2010 at 3:17 am

    Unfortunately, Paul's epistles are highly interpolated so we'll never know what he was. Yet, I must admit I think your argument works against itself. Jewish interpretation tends to be fanciful and childish. It tends to completely misuse Scripture and make arguments base on totally unrelated tangents. In other words, Paul's method of interpreting the Old Testament (just making it mean whatever the hell he wants) is entirely Pharisaic.

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