Thursday, July 23, 2009

Francis Watson: Distinct Christian Identity against Judaism

Francis Watson argues ‘that Paul’s primary aim in discussing Judaism and the law is to maintain and defend his congregations’ distinctive identity over against the Jewish community’ (2007: 54). For Watson, the Christian and Jewish communities possess ‘two irreducibly different communal identities’ (56). One significant problem in Watson’s construction of Christian identity is that it requires a negative assessment of Judaism for its definition. For example, he argues that ‘the nullity of circumcision represents an essential moment in the construction of Christian identity’ (83). However, this misses the point of Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 7:20 that ‘each one must remain in that condition in which he or she was called’ (see Campbell 2006: 91). Watson’s understanding of Paul is that he is a sectarian (see Campbell 2006: 58), establishing a rationale for separation through the resources of Israel’s scriptures, employing his antitheses for the formation of a distinct identity centred on Jesus and the ‘unimportance of the circumcision/uncircumcision divide’ (2007: 91-99, 135). Again, Watson’s binary construction is too stark on this point and misinterprets Paul’s kinship discourse as primarily concerned with ideology rather than the concrete issues of Christ-followers from different cultural backgrounds seeking to understanding the social implications of the gospel (cf. Buell 2005: 3; Hodge 2007: 17).
So, my questions include the following: Does Christianity need Judaism in order to define itself? Is it really necessary to view Judaism in such terms in order to discern the contours of early Christian identity?

Buell, Denise Kimber. Why This New Race: Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity. Gender, theory, and religion. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
Campbell, William S. Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity. Library of New Testament studies, v. 322. London: T & T Clark, 2006.
Hodge, Caroline E. Johnson. If Sons, Then Heirs A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Watson, Francis. Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2007.


Thomas J Bridges said...

Some very helpful comments. Thank you!

Helen A. Bridges said...

J. Brian Tucker's thought provoking questions are essential to my research. Watson's book will become part of my research library! Thank you.