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Segment 7: Paul Goes to the Gentiles
According to Jennings and the scholars he interviews, when Paul met with the original apostles in Jerusalem they would naturally have been suspicious of him. As a former persecutor of the church, his claim now to be one of them would have been questioned; perhaps Paul was really a spy! But Jennings goes further: many scholars, he notes, think that the Jerusalem apostles continued to be skeptical of Paul and to disagree with his interpretation of the message of Jesus. According to Jennings, Paul interpreted the Jesus events as evidence that time was running out for the world, and for that reason went out evangelizing in a hurry. The kingdom of God was about to be inaugurated, and people needed to get on board quick. But as Paul sought to win as many people to Christ as he could, he began changing the very character of Christianity. Had it not been for Paul, the Christian movement would have remained a small Jewish sect. In particular, as he went from city to city and found most Jews resistant to his message, he began turning to the Gentiles and inviting them to believe in Jesus. But to make Jesus more accessible to Gentiles, "Paul decided to change the rules" and say that Gentile men didn't need to be circumcised to be part of the Christian community (since circumcision was a serious stumbling block for uncircumcised adult men). Jennings points out that the Gospels do not report Jesus saying anything about circumcision, and he suggests that Paul was the first of Jesus' Jewish followers to say that the rite was no longer a requirement.
If Paul had fundamental differences with the Jerusalem apostles over such issues, presumably he would have known about them. However, in his own epistles Paul asserts that he and they agreed on these things. The key epistle in this regard is Galatians. In that epistle Paul argues that he received his commission from Christ to be an apostle independently of the Jerusalem apostles-that he had not even met any of them until some three years after his conversion (Gal. 1:15-20). Yet he attributes the controversy over circumcision, not to those apostles, but to certain unnamed "false brethren" (Gal. 2:4). According to Paul, he and Peter differed not in their message but in their fields of ministry: God was working through Peter primarily to the circumcised, or Jews, while God was also working through Paul primarily to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7-9). Paul's testimony coheres with the narrative in Acts 15, according to which both Peter and James-the leaders of the Jerusalem apostles-agreed with Paul not to impose circumcision on the Gentiles as a precondition for either salvation or church membership (Acts 15:1-29). Paul and Acts both report that the circumcision issue was raised, not by Paul "changing the rules," but by certain Jewish believers going to Antioch and insisting that Gentiles had to be circumcised (Acts 15:1; Gal. 2:4).
One other element of the Jennings report in this segment may be addressed more briefly. Paul's view was not that the kingdom of God was about to be inaugurated but that it had already been inaugurated in the resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 15:24-25; Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:9; Col. 1:12-14). When that kingdom would be fully realized, Paul did not speculate.
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