Don’t Call Them Judaizers!
On a recent post Jubilees, Circumcision, and Judaizers, two Mikes, Bird and Koke, informed me that I should not identify the opponents of Paul as “Judaizers.” Of course, they are NT guys and I am not, so I thought I would listen to them, and investigate why I thought Judaizer was an appropriate term to describe Paul’s opponents who wished to supplement his gospel with the demand for circumcision.
First, from my NT Introduction textbook:
Following a general admonition (3:1), Paul turns to an attack on some people who have evidently been urging the Philippians that they must be circumcised and hence become true Jews if they want to be true Christians… Paul concludes this discussion (3:17-4:1) with a harsh characterization of the Judaizers, those whom he opposes. (Achtemeier, et al., Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology, p. 397)
And from a different section:
Were the “Judaizers” in Philippi?
It is difficult to determine whether the opponents Paul has in mind in 3:2 are currently in Philippi… (p. 398)
From my Philippians class:
… who the following sentences imply are Jewish Christian itinerants promoting the circumcision of Gentiles… that the warning against “Judaizers” in verses 1b-6… very likely one of these women was urging that the community go the way of the Judaizers. (Fee, Philippians, pp. 128-29).
From the New Oxford Annotated Bible:
Despite the best efforts of scholars to identify and reconstruct the arguments of paul’s opponents, they remnain a shadowy group. Most commentators describe them as Judaizers because they insit on circumcision (310, New Testament)
However, in the comments to my recent post on Jubilees and circumcision Mike Bird wrote,
One point of order: Don’t call Paul’s opponents “Judaizers”. Only Gentiles can judaize, Jews proselytize. The infinite Ioudaizein is never used with Jews as the subject!!! Minor point, but it affects the grammar of the debate!
Then Mike Koke chimed in:
I second what Mike Bird says about Ioudaizein referring to Gentiles going over to Jewish practices and way of life (ioudaismos, usually translated Judaism) which Jews or Jewish Christians may have been compelling them to do. Shaye Cohen in the Beginnings of Jewishness (preview on Google books, see chapter 5) has an interesting discussion about the various ways and degrees Gentiles could cross the boundaries and even how there a number of examples of words that begin with an ethnos & end in izein that speak about giving political support, adopting another language or customs but they are almost always negative (to cilizize is to be cruel and treacherous, to egyptize is to be sly and crafty, to cretize is to lie, etc). Greco-Roman writers such as Juvenal or Tacitus are not too impressed when people Judaize and abandon their ancestral traditions to cultically worship one god alone and adopt what seemed to be strange practices like Sabbath or not eating pork.
Sarcasm on: pedantic NT guys and their insistence that we use terms “correctly”. Sarcasm off.
Now I had never in my life stopped to think about the label “Judaizer.” It was used to describe the group; good enough for me. But the Mikes are right: if we assume that those promoting circumcision for the Gentiles are Jewish then it’s pretty difficult for them to be Judaizers… they’re already circumcised and Jewish!
So there you go. From now on, if by some happenstance I find myself in a NT conversation, I will refer to Paul’s opponents in Galatians and Philippians as the “Judaizing Faction” or the “Circumcising Party” (though that doesn’t sound like a very fun party to me) or some such, and their Gentile converts as “Judaizers”.
As an aside, this is part of what I like about “biblio-blogging”: I interact with those whose field of expertise is different than mine, read material that I would never, ever read in my own studies, and every once in awhile, I even learn something new!
Except from Tilling of course…