Paul and Pneuma, Justin and Judaism: Introduction

A series on the reception and transformation of Paul in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho

In the 100 years between the time when the apostle Paul wrote his epistles and when a Christian named Justin read those letters, numerous transformations occurred in the community of Jesus followers.[1] Perhaps most important was the shift surrounding the most basic of questions for any group of people: who belonged to the community, in this case, the church? While Pauline Christianity emphasized Gentile inclusion within the people of God, just a few generations later Christians were arguing for the community’s exclusion of the Jews apart from Jesus Christ.[2] Put another way, for Paul the driving questions of the day were if Gentiles could be saved and how that could happen; for Justin the question was whether or not Jews could belong to the community of Christ followers. This paper explores this transformation of community boundaries by tracing the reception of the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles (Paul) in one writing from a Christian philosopher in Rome (Justin).

In this series, I argue that the reception of Paul’s letters in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho demonstrates a transformation of Pauline concepts of who belongs to the people of God. Although Paul and Justin shared certain foundations—such as the authority of Jewish scriptures and ancestry of Abraham for the people of God—they worked from different contexts and divergent philosophical trajectories—Stoicism and Middle Platonism, respectively. Perhaps most importantly, the different theological grammars of Paul and Justin—influenced primarily by their different cosmologies—led them to conceive of pneuma[3] differently. This ultimately caused Justin to misread Paul on the relationship between the Judaism and the Christian community, thereby deepening the fault which had formed between the two socio-religious movements and leading Justin to argue (contra Paul) that Jews stood outside the covenant of God.[4] After briefly introducing Justin’s background, contemporary scholarship’s discussion of Paul on the Gentile Problem, and Justin’s general knowledge and use of Paul’s letters, this paper examines three realms of Justin’s transformation of Paul: the meaning of belonging to the pneuma, the importance of belonging to the family of Abraham, and the identity of true Israel.

[1] Joseph R. Dodson, “Introduction” in Paul and the Second Century (ed. M.F. Bird and J.R. Dodson, LNTS 412, London: Bloomsbury, 2011), 1.

[2] Jeffrey S. Siker, “From Gentile Inclusion to Jewish Exclusion: Abraham in Early Christian Controversy with Jews,” BTB 19 (1989): 30–36 (30) [Here and throughout the rest of the essay, give full range of articles and essays and then specific page number].

[3] Here and for the duration of this paper, I leave this term untranslated but present the Greek πνεῦμα in Latin characters as pneuma. In so doing, I follow the lead of Robertson in attempting to avoid anachronistic concepts and associations which are often attached to translations of pneuma. See Paul Robertson, “De-Spiritualizing Pneuma: Modernity, Religion, and Anachronism in the Study of Paul,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 26 (2014): 365-83.

[4] On the creation of this fault, see Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), and Denise Kimber Buell, Why This New Race: Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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