Matthew Thiessen

Oct 22, 2023

A Jewish Paul

The Messiah's Herald to the Gentiles

Baker Academic 2023

Excavating and interpreting Paul’s thought, belief, ideas, and mission from his authentic letters and those otherwise attributed to him remains an ongoing effort in scholarship, with several competing perspectives vying for prominence. Matthew Thiessen advances an important reading of Paul within first-century Judaism, which he conceives not as a monolith of theological positions but rather as a spectrum of ideas that comfortably included Paul’s new belief in Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and Paul’s own call as appointed envoy to deliver that good news to non-Jewish Gentiles. 

On this episode, Matthew joined the New Books Network to discuss the recent publication of A Jewish Paul: The Messiah’s Herald to the Gentiles (Baker Academic, 2023), a concise and accessible introductory study of this Diasporic Jew that yet embraces the “weird” in Paul’s thinking, including his advance of pneumatic “gene therapy” rather than “cosmetic surgery” for non-Jews who wished to partake in God’s promises to Abraham. According to Thiessen, Paul must be understood first in his own historical context, complete with the philosophical and scientific presuppositions common to the first century CE, before being imported into our theological present—a method that has potential to overcome the devastating effects of centuries of Christian supersessionism but also compels us to tackle the uncomfortable apocalyptic origins of the earliest Jesus movement.

Matthew Thiessen (Ph.D., Duke University, 2010) is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. His research focuses on the rise of Christianity, particularly as it relates to early Judaism, and especially on contextualizing Paul’s letters within first-century Judaism. Atop numerous journal articles and chapter-length contributions, he has authored several books to that effect, including Paul and the Gentile Problem (Oxford University Press, 2016), Jesus and the Forces of Death (Baker Academic, 2020), and Contesting Conversion: Genealogy, Circumcision, and Identity in Ancient Judaism and Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2011), which was awarded the Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise.

Rob Heaton (Ph.D., University of Denver, 2019) hosts Biblical Studies conversations for New Books in Religion and teaches New Testament, Christian origins, and early Christianity at Anderson University in Indiana. He recently authored The Shepherd of Hermas as Scriptura Non Grata: From Popularity in Early Christianity to Exclusion from the New Testament Canon (Lexington Books, 2023). For more about Rob and his work, or to offer feedback related to this episode, please visit his website at https://www.robheaton.com.

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Rob Heaton

Rob Heaton (Ph.D., University of Denver, 2019) hosts Biblical Studies conversations for New Books in Religion and teaches New Testament, Christian origins, and early Christianity at Anderson University in Indiana. His research focuses on the New Testament canon and other early Christian literature, especially subcanonical books like The Shepherd of Hermas and the Apostolic Fathers. For more about Rob and his work, or to offer feedback related to his podcast episodes, please see his website at https://www.robheaton.com.
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