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Engaging the Bible in Mission Theology: Scholarship, James M. Scott

Engaging the Bible in Mission Theology Scholarship: Scholarship, James M. Scott

+James M. Scott, Paul and the Nations: The Old Testament and Jewish Background of Paul’s Mission to the Nations with Special Reference to the Destination of Galatians, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen qum Neuen Testament 84 (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1995.  276 pages, with selected bibliography, index of ancient writings, index of modern authors,

This book proposes that a uniquely Jewish understanding of geography, based on the Table of Nations in Genesis and variously explicated in subsequent Jewish literature, provides understanding for Paul’s missionary strategy as seen in Paul and Acts.

Conclusion on Hellenistic-Jewish literature: 3 senses of ev,qnh [ethnē, 'people, nation, Gentile'], in LXX: nations of the world, including Israel; all the nations, distinct from Israel; individual Gentiles over against the Jews (120).  Three contexts for a salvation-historical framework appear in this literature, as in the OT: Table of Nations; Abrahamic Promise; Covenant with Israel.  Israel occupies a central position among the nations (Gen. 10 and 1 Chr. 1.1-2.2).  The Abrahamic promise ‘sets in motion a trajectory whose ultimate fulfillment takes place in the time of Israel’s Restoration, when Israel will again become a great nation, and all nations (i.e., those listed in the Table of Nations) will be blessed in Abraham and his seed’ (121).  Israel ‘languishes in protracted exile among the nations, anticipating that day when God will restore her fortunes and gather all nations to himself’ (121).  This latter is well developed in Qumranic literature (4Q385-389 4-6.2-10.  Qumran saw itself as the remnant returned from Exile (4QdibHam 5.1-14).


Usage: ev,qnh [ethnē] is used of nations, including Israel (Gal. 3.8, citing Gen. 12.3).  Israel is frequently called a lao,j [laos, 'people'].  Paul uses ev,qnh [ethnē] of the Gentile nations, but he never uses the singular for a ‘Gentile’—instead he uses  {Ellhn [Hellēn, 'Greek'] (123).

Paul’s use of the OT/Jewish Concept of   ;Eqnh [ethnē]: ‘all Israel’ means all 12 tribes in Rom. 11.26, since Paul identifies himself in Rom. 11.1 as from Benjamin and is arguing that a remnant of Israel has already come to faith (p. 127, n. 472).  ‘the full number of the nations’ (Rom. 11.25) means the 70 or 72 nations of the world (Dt. 32.8 in the Table of Nations tradition—Dt. 32 is ‘crucial to Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11’) (127).  

Abrahamic Promise in Paul:

Rom. 4.16—Abraham is the father of many nations (includes Jews and Gentiles) (128).  Rom. 4.13 includes the traditional expectation that Abraham and his seed will be ‘heir of the world’.

Gal. 3.8—Blessing for all nations in Abraham and his seed.  Paul modifies Gen. 12.3 with Gen. 18.18.  Over against those arguing that here Paul excludes the Jews (D.-A. Koch), Scott argues that Paul refers to both Gentiles and Jews.  Scott has a good argument here.  Note one of his points: Gen. 12.3 (+ 18.18) ‘is filtered through Ps. 71.17 LXX, where panta ta eqnh [panta ta ethnē] clearly means ‘all nations’ (129).

The Covenant with Israel:

1.       The sin of Israel.  Gal. 2.15 ‘Jews by birth, not Gentile sinners’ goes against the OT view of Israel as sinful—it is irony on Paul’s part, due to Peter separating from Gentiles at table in the previous verses (131).  Gal. 3.10 sees Israel as under a curse and in protracted exile (v. 10b) (131).

2.       The exile of Israel.  Rom .2.24 cites Is. 52.5, and this assumes that Israel is in exile.  Israel’s lack of response to the message (Rom. 10.18) is seen as jealousy of the Gentile mission (v.19), and Paul ‘cites in this regard Deut 32.21, referring to the exilic situation of Israel: ‘I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation….’ (132).

3.       The Restoration of Israel: ‘If we read Rom. 13.1-7 in the context of Paul’s imminent expectation of the Parousia (13.11-12) and the Final Judgment (12.19), then the exhortation to the Roman addressees to be subject to the divinely ordained government presupposes that Rome is the Fourth Empire of Daniel, the final empire before the Kingdom of God is established and the saints of the Most High rule the world’ (132).  Paul’s mission to the Gentiles is ultimately for the salvation of Israel, since either some Jews will become jealous (Rom. 11.11, 13-14) or the full number of nations will come in and then the Deliverer will save ‘all Israel’ (11.25f).  ‘Paul’s concept of the coming in of the nations derives from the OT expectation of the eschatological pilgrimage of the nations to Zion (cf. Isa. 2.2-4 = Mic. 4.1-3)’ (132f).  ‘In Rom. 9.24, Paul argues that God has called ‘us’ not only [from the Jews] but also [from the Gentiles].  In support of this statement, the Apostle cites Hos 2.25 and 2.1, both of which contain the word [‘to call’]….’ (133).  In Rom. 15.10, Paul quotes Dt. 32.43 about the joint worship of the nations, including quotations from the Psalms and Is. 11.10 in the surrounding verses.

Chapter 3

In ch. 3 of this book, Scott looks at the Table of Nations notion and Romans 15.

1.       Why ‘from Jerusalem and in a circle’?  Paul’s mission was not from Jerusalem.  He does go and preach there, though.  ‘In a circle’ in the OT means the surrounding areas, frequently in ref. to Jerusalem (Ps. 78.3; 124.2; Jer. 39.44; 40.13; Ezek. 34.26) (138).  This puts Jerusalem at the centre of the world with the nations surrounding it, as in the Table of Nations tradition (138).

2.       To Illyricum and Beyond.  Paul’s mission and the tripartite division of the world.  The Table of Nations sees Jerusalem at the centre and the rest of the world as divided between Shem, Ham and Japheth.  Following this, ‘…Paul conceives of his missionary activity as focused on the sphere of the Japhethites, for the swath of territory thereby described includes all of Asia Minor (with Galatia!) and Europe as far as the Adraitic Sea, which amounts to approximately half of the territory traditionally ascribed to Japheth and his sons’ (141).  Paul’s plan to go to Rome and on to Spain would complete the evangelisation of Japheth’s territory.  ‘Both Jubilees (8.23, 26; 9.12) and Josephus (Ant. 1.122) mention Gadir/Gadeira near the Straights of Gibraltar in southern Spain in their respective expositions of the Table of Nations’ (142).  1 Chr. 1 lists the nations of the world in a circle, going counterclockwise from the north (142).  Paul’s references to Roman provinces instead of Japhethite names concurs with other Jews updating the list with Roman provinces (cf. ch. 1 of this book).  Paul’s mission to the ‘Greeks’ (Rom. 1.16) may reflect Jewish tradition that this was the language of Japheth (p. 144, n. 46 and ch. 2).  R. Riesner, Früzeit, pp. 216-225, says Rom. 15.19 should be seen in light of Is. 66.19 (pp. 145f).  Also, as Hays notes (Echoes, p. 162), Isaiah is the most important source for Paul because it is the clearest vision of the restoration of Israel involving a universalistic ingathering of Gentiles to worship the Lord (146f).  But Riesner tries to fit every detail of Is. 66.19 into Rom. 15, and this is a strain—it doesn’t fit (147).  Paul’s mission was to Jews and Gentiles in a geographical region, not to the Gentiles alone (152f), and this may go back to the Table of Nations (154).  This also tallies with Acts 15’s decision about abstention laws for the Gentiles based on Gen. 9.1-7 (cf. Lev. 17-18)—Noah is tied to the territorial mission division here too.  Qumran (4Q252 2.6-7) interpreted Gen. 9.27 in light of Gen. 12.3—a promise to Noah’s 3 sons in the Table of Nations, and this may be what was going on in Acts 15 (155).  Scott pushes his argument further, as he needs to (!): Peter’s jurisdiction may have been Shem (1 Pt. 5.13’s Asia Minor, a letter written from ‘Babylon’); and we don’t know about Africa (Ham) (156f).

2 Cor. 10 also shows Paul has a conception of ‘his’ territory in mission (159ff).  Scott suggests that the overlap of territory between Paul and Peter might be due to a difference between the Table of Nations in Gen. and that in Jubilees 8-9, the latter including all Asia Minor.  [This does not explain Peter in Corinth or Rome.] (161f).

Acts ‘confirms’ Paul’s approach to mission strategy based on the Table of Nations tradition.  Luke has 12 sent out (Israel, 9.1-6) and then 70/72 sent out in mission (the number of the nations, Lk. 10).  Lk. 24.46-47 has the disciples sent out to all nations.  (162f)  Acts 1.8 seems to set up a structure for Acts, and yet the expansion of the mission in concentric circles from Jerusalem and in a northwesterly direction fits with 1 Chr. 1’s list of the nations in a circle going counterclockwise (164).  Acts 2.5-11 has people ‘from every nation under heaven’ coming to Jerusalem.  Scott maintains that the partial list of nations relates to the Table of Nations tradition (165).  Another partial list is found in Is. 66.19, and again in Sib. Or. 3.512-519.  Philo Legat. 281-283 is closest to Acts 2.9-11’s list (165).  Ant. 1.122-147 has an updated list of nations.  P. S. Alexander, ‘Geography and the Bible (Early Jewish),’ ABD, 2 (1992) 977-988 (here p. 983) suggests Acts 2 is a reversal of Gen. 11.7’s confusion of the tongues after the Flood, which also brings Acts 2 together with the Table of Nations in Genesis.  The structure of Acts may relate to mission to Shem (Acts 2.1-8.25), Ham (8.26-40), and Japheth (9.1-28.31) (167). [The connection to Genesis might be there, but one does not have to see this as a structure to Acts, which is, as Scott admits, disproportional.]  Paul’s missionary journeys appear to retrace the steps of the Japhethites (as Scott argues on pp. 174f—but, as he admits, this leaves one without a reason why Paul was not to enter Bithynia, Acts 16.7).  Acts 17.26 (Areopagus) mentions that God made from one man every nation, ‘having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation’ (176).  This also is an allusion to Dt. 32.8 (set the bounds of the nations according to the number of angels of God) (177).  (cf. the role of Dt. 32 in Rom. 9-11).

Chapter 4

In Ch. 4, Scott examines ‘The Table of Nations and the Destination of Galatians’ (181ff).  His conclusion (215ff): If one examines this question from Greco-Roman ethnography and geography, one can only conclude that the northern part of the Roman province is meant.  But from Jewish topography based on the Table of Nations: Josephus identifies Gomer as Japheth’s first son (Ant. 1.123), and he sees this region as what was now Galatia for the Romans, divided into 3 parts for his 3 sons (215).  All the inhabitants of this region for Jews were Gomerites/Galatians—the ethnic division in the traditional debate of north or south Galatia is not relevant (215).  This removes one of the main obstacles for the south Galatia theory, which argues that these people were not ‘Galatians’, as Paul calls them.  If so, ‘then Paul is most likely sending his letter to the churches of Ashkenaz, the firstborn son of Gomer, the first son of Japheth’—the region of Phrygia-Galatica, where Paul preached on his 1st missionary journey (215).

The book concludes after ch. 4 with a conclusion chapter.