Does what Paul wrote to Galatia, Colossia, and Romans apply to Gentile believers, or Jewish believers, or Both?

In a discussion of whether the New Covenant Scriptures were given as a manual of practice for Messianic Jews, I asked the question, “So does Paul’s writing not apply to Jewish believers? I ask because unless the New Testament does not apply to Jewish believers, then at least some things HAVE been changed.” I posted most of my reply here.

To that, Erin replied, “[N]o it doesn’t. In case you don’t know, the ‘Galatians’ were gentile. The ‘Colossians’ were gentile…To forget the audience to whom the authors of the NT were talking does you a great unjustice, and furthers the general ignorance prevalent in today’s Christian body. Paul primarily talked to gentiles. Jesus talked primarily to Jews.”

So then, the question arises, “Does what Paul wrote to Galatia, Colossia, and Rome apply to Gentiles only, or to Jews only, or to both?

Let us look first at the introductions of the books to see if that helps us understand the intended audience for these books.

Romans tells us it was written to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints. This does not really tell us whether Paul intentionally included Gentile or Jewish believers or not.

Romans 1:7

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Galatians was written to the churches in Galatia. From this line alone, we are not sure whether Gentiles or Jews were included as part of the intended audience or not.

Galatians 1:1-2

1Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2and all the brothers with me,  To the churches in Galatia:

The introduction to the book of Colossians does not provide any more help than those of the other two books. Here we see Paul wrote to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse.

Colossians 1:1-2

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:  Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

So, in all three cases, the books could have been written to either Gentiles, Jews, or both – the introuctions do not make it clear, but neither do they exclude anyone.

We will now examine the text of each book to see if we can ascertain who was the intended audience.

Romans 1:13 tells us that at least part of the intended audience was Gentiles, as Paul mentioned “other Gentiles.”

Romans 1:13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

But we see in Romans 2 that Paul is speaking to those who call themselves Jews.

Romans 2:17-24

17Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

So it appears the book of Romans was written to Gentiles and Jewish believers in Rome.

We have confirmation of this in Romans 7. It is evident the audience knew the Law, from Romans 7:1.

1Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?

But more than that, the audience had died to the Law that once bound them. Roman 7:4-6.

4So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. 5For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. 6But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Since the Law had once bound them, the audience must have included Jews. Thus we have confirmation that the book of Romans was written to both Jewish and Gentile believes.

But what about the book of Galatians? To whom was it written? We have already seen it was written to multiple churches in Galatia. Now we have to try to understand from the text itself who was the intended audience.

In Galatians 3:1-5, we see they knew the Law, and after coming to faith were trying to observe the Law.

1You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing?5Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

How could the Law lead a Gentile to faith in Christ? A Gentile would not have been held prisoner by the Law, so it could not have led him to faith in Christ.

Galatians 3:23-25

23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

So from the text, we see that Galatians was written to an audience that at least included Jewish believers.

We see this is confirmed in Galatians 5:1-6, where Paul is speaking of not being burdened again by a yoke of slavery (the Law). Yet, it is also clear that at least some of his audience were not yet circumcised, so would have not been Jewish.

1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

So then, we have seen that the book of Romans and the book of Galatians were written to a mixed audience of Jewish and Gentile believers.

Let us now examine the text of Colossians to see if we can glean from it whether the audience was Jewish, Gentile, or both.

Recall that the Law was given to Jews. The Law be against and oppose those who were not given the Law? It can not. Therefore, at least part of the audience were Jewish believers.

Colossians 2:13-14

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

So we see in the text itself that the epistles to the Romans, Galatians, and Colossians were all intended for the believers in those areas. Romans are Galatians are obviously for both Jewish and Gentile believers. Colossians has been shown to be to Jewish believers, although I think the introduction makes it clear it is for anyone who believes in Christ.

But perhaps most importantly is what we see in Paul’s letter to Timothy,

2 Timothy 3:15-17

15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

ALL scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  This would include the three letters in question: Romans, Galatians, and Colossians.

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8 Responses

  1. The critical commentaries seem to agree that they were all mixed congregations that received these letters from Paul. I’ve come to that conclusion through personal study (much as what you’ve demonstrated here) and therefore agree.

  2. If we look at the Book of Acts, chapter 13 to 14, and St. Paul’s first missionary journey with Barnabas, when they went into the cities, they always went to the synagogues first. But within were also the devout Greek or Gentile converts to Judiasm (proselytes)…Acts 13: 43. It was here first, that Paul began to speak to the Gentiles as to their salvation, according to the OT Scripture, (Acts 13:47).

    Also note Rom. 1:16, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek”. And in Rom. 1:14, St. Paul said, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians”. Barbarians were simply those outside of the Greek culture. Thus St. Paul is sent to all Gentiles.

    When Paul writes in Romans at least he still has the Jew first, and this indicates the priority of the Jews in the salvation history and their election as God’s people. See Romans chapters 9-11. But in the providence of God, the Jewish nation and people will be set aside for a time, as a whole, since they themselves will reject the Gospel of Christ. (Acts 28: 25-28 / Rom. 11). Now it is the “time of the Gentiles.” But individual Jews, many can and are brought to salvation in this time.

    So often when Paul writes his Letters, he still has both the Jewish nation, people and their Law before his mind. From here is the NT doctrine and theology of God. (2 Tim. 1:3) But there is always a new “revelation” seen and given, in the ministry and method of St. Paul (Eph. 2:11-22 / 3:1-8, etc.)

    Sorry this is rather quick and brief!

  3. Well, in theory, I have little problem with Messianic Judaism. In practice, Messianic Judaism is a combination between rabbinic Judaism, which IS NOT the Judaism of the Old Testament OR of the time of Jesus Christ and Paul but the invention of the Pharisee Yochanan ben Zakkai after the fall of the second temple in 70 AD and of those who came after him, and Christianity. Rabbinic Judaism has a ton of extrabiblical writings and interpretations that obscure, hide and deny the true meanings of the original Old Testament text, especially those which point to Jesus Christ. It is also filled with estorica … occult and mysticism. It is seldom spoken of, but kabbalah is actually considered the highest form of Judaism, not some offshoot. Add it all up and the religion of modern Jews is not the religion given by God to Moses at Sinai or any legitimate expression practiced thereafter (i.e. Davidic temple Judaism or the postexilic synagogue Judaism). Pretending otherwise denies history, and it also denies what post-70 AD Judaism actually teaches.

    So, the question has to be why we treat Messianic Judaism, a mixture between Christianity and modern Judaism, any different from why we would treat any other religion mixed with Christianity. For instance, Christianity and Islam, or Christianity and Hinduism. It would be one thing if they were only preserving the Jewish culture and traditions. Hindu and Muslim converts to Christianity do the same in order to practice the religion within the context of their own culture and be more effective missionaries to their own people (contextualization), and I respect that. But many, indeed most Messianic Jews still often refer to and incorporate the Talmud and other Jewish writings in addition to the Bible despite knowing full well that it is filled with things that deny the Bible, deny Jesus Christ and is filled with mystical and other questionable content. How is that different from, say, Roman Catholic tradition that Protestants reject?

    So, the question would be whether a Jewish Christian could practice the synagogue-era Judaism of the time of Paul and Jesus Christ in addition to Christianity, if for no other reason than the early Jerusalem church did. My answer: it would be very difficult to. There are two reasons for this. 1. The destruction of the temple in 70 AD. We cannot ignore that things did not change as a result of that event, and one does not have to be a preterist to admit that. Even Jesus Christ called the temple “the holy place” because it was standing and He went there to worship, pray and offer sacrifices during His sojourn on earth, and that temple is gone. 2. The letter to the Hebrews. Now I am of the opinion that the epistle to the Hebrews was written after 70 AD, which ended the Jewish age and took us to the times of the Gentiles. The warnings and the doctrine of the letter to the Hebrews does not leave much room to practice even the legitimate form of Judaism of Paul and James.

    That said, I think that we have to recall that Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter and the other apostles were apostles to the Jews. The apostles to the Jews are off the scene, and as Paul wrote in Romans, the eyes of the Jews are blinded until the time of the Gentiles are ended. Now certainly, there are going to be some Jewish converts to Christianity during this age. So, Paul’s epistles are just like those for the entire New Testament and the whole Bible: for all Christians and only for Christians.

    Regarding the Jews of that day, the whole Judaizer thing … Paul was combating the idea that a person had to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses in order to be saved. But getting circumcised wasn’t wrong in and of itself … Paul had Timothy circumcised. Also, following the law of Moses isn’t wrong in and of itself. The question is the reason for doing it. At the time, there was a legitimate reason for following the law of Moses … Jews had been brought up with it, and it was part of their culture and nation. Therefore, Paul clearly wrote in Romans that it was wrong to try to force the Jews to stop following the legitimate expression of Judaism that they had been brought up in, as the heavily Gentile Roman church was attempting to do.

    But that goes back to the point that there is currently NO REASON for anyone to follow the law of Moses as far as I can tell, because modern Jews aren’t doing it. Modern Jews are not practicing a legitimate expression of Judaism. They are practicing a false religion and need to stop entirely. They would have to go back and recreate a legitimate expression of Judaism, one without the Talmud, Rambam and all those other mystical and anti-Christ ramblings in it. If you want to do that, then fine, but why? What is gained by doing it, by going through all that effort? And what is lost by not doing it?

    To answer the latter question, NOTHING is lost by not doing it. Gentiles and Jews who believe in and keep the commandments of Jesus Christ receive the same reward. So if nothing is lost by not doing it from an eternal perspective, what is gained? Why is it done? The answer has to do with things in THIS LIFE, which is tradition, culture, nationalism, identification with the Jewish people.

    Which is, of course, fine. Let’s face it … this is precisely the reason why Christian denominations exist, why national churches exist, why “black churches” and “white churches” exist, why “high churches”, “liturgical churches”, “traditional churches”, “fundamental/primitive churches”, “contemporary churches” exist. Forbidding the Jews from having their traditions and practices that are peculiar to their own situation would be as wrong as demanding that affluent Presbyterians in Norway worship the same as indigent Baptists in Bolivia, or persecuted believers meeting secretly in houses, cornfields or wherever else they can find in Indonesia and China. However, whether that church is in Harlem, Italy or some Messianic synagogue, its doctrines and practices must be governed by Biblical revelation. So when black churches do that NAACP stuff and evangelical churches do that religious right cultural gospel stuff, it is a real problem that can lead to heresy. The same danger exists with Messianic Jews’ holding on to their writings and traditions that were created to deny Christ while at the same time claiming Christ. That’s a reason for a lot of the confusion. Take Erin’s comments:

    BOTTOM LINE: gentile Christians have little more than the Noahide laws to observe (Acts 21:25)…. See More
    BOTTOM LINE: Jewish Christians have the Torah [and technically,at least a significant part of Talmud] to observe (Matthew 5:17-20, Matthew 19:16,17).

    That is not Christianity. That is not even Biblical Judaism. Where in the New or Old Testament is the “Noahide laws” spoken of, for instance? That is post-70 AD rabbinic Judaism.

    Also:

    but to say that Galatians 3:28 indicates the physical, behavioral, and social differences between Jews and Gentiles has been eradicated, your church is simply perpetuating the anti-Jewish and anti-Jesus teachings that have filled the gentile Christian community for the past 1700 years. Respectfully, you should speak to your pastor and inform him that he has dropped the ball in educating his flock.”

    Again, post 70 AD false Judaism, with is sectarianism, chauvinism, and virulent disdain for (Gentile?) Christians, and its “we are right, we know the truth but you Gentiles are wrong and need us to teach you” pridefulness. She actually told you to go tell your pastor that he is teaching his congregation false doctrine? And this

    to say that Galatians 3:28 indicates the physical, behavioral, and social differences between Jews and Gentiles has been eradicated

    well first imagine if it were some Jeremiah Wright black nationalist type saying the same thing! But again, those are doctrines and thinking that is straight out of the Talmud.

    At some point, I think that we have to ask our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters if they would be Christians if it meant giving up the Talmud. The answer would reveal how many of them actually are our brothers and sisters.

  4. I don’t think we can cast aside our Messianic Jewish Christians just because they see the Talmud. We can see some of the same type in the James crowd, in the early apostolic church. But no doubt many of them were “Brethren”. The issue is perhaps more to the reality of the Judaizers, and just what that is? But we must also admit that much of the theology of the Christian Churches has been shaped by the theology of supersessionism. WE simply need each other! Jewish Christian, Gentile Christian, though we must admit we are in ‘the time of the Gentiles’.

  5. Job,

    You wrote, ” It would be one thing if they were only preserving the Jewish culture and traditions.”

    I agree. And I have seen some people treating it as such, and others doing as Erin has done – putting the rabbinical teaching on par with or above scripture. Reminds me of putting the church teachings on par with or above scripture.

    I think everything needs to be tested against scripture.

    As for following the Law, I think aspects of it can be followed with no problem, depending on the motivation. I think Paul had Timothy circumcised in an example of being all things to all people so he might win some.

    “kabbalah is actually considered the highest form of Judaism, not some offshoot”

    I think that would depend on the Jew you asked, no? I understood it simply another part of Judaism (the “mystic” part), to begin learning after having completed training in Torah and Talmud. Not that I know a lot about it.

    What makes you think Paul was writing in Romans to say it was OK follow Judaism?

    Why do you think Hebrews was written after the destruction of the temple?

  6. Fr. R.,

    I have no problem with Messianic Jews who base their practices upon the Scriptures. But those who ignore text in the New Testament are asking for trouble, and doing little more than Judaizing those who try to follow Christ.

  7. W,
    I agree, but we must let them be what “they” want to be, i.e. Jewish Messianic Christians. We we can “be” whatever we want to be, as Gentile Christians. Of course within the form and reality of the orthodox Christ. See, Rom. 14

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