Was the apostle Paul a Jew?

Yes, the apostle Paul was a Jew by birth, culture, and religion. He was born to Jewish parents from the tribe of Benjamin, so Paul was ethnically a Jew (Romans 11:1). His parents were observant Jews who had him circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, so he was raised in a culturally Jewish context (Philippians 3:5). When he reached maturity, he became a disciple of one of the most honored Jewish rabbis of the first century, Rabbi Gamaliel, grandson of the famous Hillel (Acts 22:3). Paul became a Pharisee who acted under the authority of the chief priests (Acts 9:14). In his letter to the believers in Philippi, Paul said he was "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee" (Philippians 3:5). Paul was not ashamed of his Jewishness nor did he try to hide it, even as he was called to share the gospel with Gentiles (Acts 13:47; Romans 11:13–16). He also continued to observe some Jewish practices like returning to Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks (Acts 20:16).

Paul was, in every way, a Jew. He also knew that righteousness did not come from adherence to the Mosaic law (Galatians 3:10–14, 21–29). Paul understood that salvation could be found only in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah who made salvation available to the entire world. All who put their faith in Jesus—Jew or Gentile—are saved. To the Philippians Paul wrote, "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Philippians 3:8–9). During the council of elders in Jerusalem which Paul attended, Peter stated, "But we [Jews] believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they [Gentiles] will" (Acts 15:11). Thus, while proud of his Jewish heritage, Paul knew it did not gain him any advantage in being saved.

Paul also wanted Jewish and Gentile believers to unite as one family in Christ. To the believers in Ephesus Paul wrote, "For he [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility… So then you [Gentiles] are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:14–16, 19). When explaining this unity between Jewish and Gentile believers to the Galatians, Paul described, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:27–29). Paul stated that every believer, regardless of background, was a fellow family member entitled to the same inheritance.

Paul was neither ashamed of nor prideful about his Jewishness. Rather, he spent his life sharing the gospel with both Jew and Gentile. To the Corinthians he explained, "To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law" (1 Corinthians 9:20–21). Paul did not allow his Jewishness to prevent him from sharing the gospel with Gentiles nor from experiencing freedom from Jewish law even when he chose to observe those laws out of deference to his fellow Jews. Paul desperately wanted people from all backgrounds to come to a saving faith.

So, yes, the apostle Paul was a Jew, but he did not believe that made him better or more worthy than any other person to receive salvation through Christ by faith.


Related Truth:

Who was Saul of Tarsus in the Bible?

What are the differences between the old covenant and the new covenant?

Who was Gamaliel in the Bible?

What happened on Paul's first missionary journey?

Was the apostle Paul ever married?


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