Back in June or July, I heard a talk from Mark Nanos in which he suggested that we have been wrongly interpreting 1 Corinthians 9: Paul is not claiming that he was willing to change his lifestyle – that is, his adoption of the Torah, at will – such a position would be that of a charlatan. Rather, Nanos suggested, Paul was willing to change his rhetoric, depending on his circumstances – when among Jews he would argue as a Jew, and when among Gentiles he would argue as a Gentile.
I found myself unconvinced. One significant reason for my unconvincedness was that this reading just didn’t seem to fit the context, which was on about the practice of eating food, not the exercise of rhetoric.
Anyway, I’ve since been doing some thinking about the new proposal by David Rudolph, whose dissertation on the topic will be published this year by Eerdmans: A Jew to the Jews: Jewish Contours of Pauline Flexibility in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
Exodus 30:17-21 calls upon priests (not the laity) to conduct ritual handwashing; yet Mark 7:1-5 presents the (non-priestly) Pharisees as upholding handwashing as an essential tradition for all Jews. That is, though not priests, they become like priests at the table, in order to honour the law (in accordance with the Traditions of the Elders). In other instances, it may be that the Pharisees’ willingness to be lenient with regard to ritual purity (relative to the Sadducees and Essenes) aided their popularity with the people. Perhaps Paul’s accommodation arises from the development of such an orientation, and relates to his varying adoption of these very traditions in the company of ordinary Jews (“to the Jew”), Pharisees (“to those under the law”), and Gentiles (“to those without the law”). Rudolph’s proposal is thus that Paul’s adaptability consists in a varying adoption of Pharisaic halakha, rather than a varying adoption of the Torah itself.