Paul: An Emissary to Ephraim

Paul: An Emissary to Ephraim
James Trimm

Let me begin by examining the Nazarene Commentary on Isaiah 8:14 as cited by Jerome:

The Nazarenes, who accept Messiah in such a way
that they do not cease to observe the old law
explain the two houses as the two families, viz.
of Shammai and Hillel, from whom originated the Scribes
and the Pharisees. Akiba, who took over their school,
is called the master of Aquila the proselyte, and
after him came Meir who has been succeeded by Joannes
the son of Zakkai and after him Eliezer and further
Telphon, and next Joseph Galilaeus and Joshua up to
the capture of Jerusalem. Shammai then and Hillel
were born not long before the Lord; they originated
in Judea. The name of the first means “scatterer”
and of the second “unholy”, because he scattered and
defiled the precepts of the Torah by his traditions
and deutroseis. And these are the two houses who did
not accept the Savior who has become to them ruin and

Now I want to clarify two things here. First of all the Nazarene commentary here is not giving the Pashat (literal meaning) of the passage but a MIDRASH (an allagoical meaning) for the passage. This Midrash draws an allagorical relationship between the two houses of Israel (the House of Israel and the House of Judah) and the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel. The basis for this Midrash is a wordplay on the names Shammai and Hillel which sound in Hebrew like the words for “scatterer” and “unholy”. “Scatterer” ties the House of Shammai allegorically to the “scattered” House of Israel. “Unholy” ties the House of Hillel to the House of Judah.

Two things are important to note:

  1. The Midrash is not identifying an allegory to the two houses
    themselves, but to the STUMBLING (see Is. 8:14) of the two houses.
  2. The Midrash is not attacking Hillel and Shammai themselves but the
    Houses or schools of Rabbinic thought that arose after them in their names
    (as is clear from the linage of Rabbis that came after them), The purpose
    of this portion of the Midrash is to link Rabbinic Judaism to the
    “stumbling” of the House of Judah discussed in this section of Isaiah.

This section of the commentary is purely midrashic (allegorical) and tells us little about the Nazarene understanding of the Pashat (literal meaning) of this passage.

But now lets look at the Nazarene commentary on Is. 9:1-4 (8:23-93 in Jewish versions) as cited by Jerome:

The Nazarenes, whose opinion I have set forth above,
try to explain this passage in the following way:
When Messiah came and his proclaiming shone out,
the land of Zebulon and Naphtali first of all were
freed from the errors of the Scribes and Pharisees
and he shook off their shoulders the very heavy yoke
of the Jewish traditions. Later, however, the proclaiming
became more dominant, that means the proclaiming was
multiplied, through the Goodnews of the emissary Paul
who was the least of all the emissaries. And the goodnews
of Messiah shone to the most distant tribes and the way of
the whole sea. Finally the whole world, which earlier walked
or sat in darkness and was imprisoned in the bonds of idolatry
and death, has seen the clear light of the goodnews.

(Note: The “Jewish traditions” in the context of this commentary refer to Rabbinic Halachah of the fourth century CE with which the Nazarenes took issue.)

Now Isaiah 9:1-4 refers to “Galilee of the GOYIM (nations/Gentiles)” but identifies these “Gentiles” as the inhabitants of “the land of Zebulon and Naphtali”. Here the House of Israel is being identified as “Gentiles”. There are at least two other places in Scripture where the word “Gentile” is used to describe Ephraim (the House of Israel). One of these is Gen. 48:19 where (in the Hebrew) Ephraim is told his descendent’s will become “a multitude of nations (GOYIM; Gentiles)” (compare Rom. 11:25 where the same phrase is translated in the KJV as “fullness of the gentiles”). The other case is in Rom. 9:24 which refers to “Jews” and “Gentiles” but then goes on (in Rom. 9:25-26) to quote Hosea (Hos. 2:23; 1:10) to identify them which the “Children of Judah” and “the Children of Israel” (Hosea 1:10-11; 2:23).

The Nazarene Commentary on Isaiah understands “you have multiplied the nation” (Is. 9:3) to refer to Paul “the proclaiming was multiplied, through the Goodnews of the emissary Paul… to the most distant tribes”. Therefore the ancient Nazarenes understood the “Gentiles” to whom Paul primarily directed his message with the Ephraimite “Gentiles” of Isaiah 9:1-4 and with “the most distant tribes”.

This comment in the Nazarene Commentary on Isaiah makes it clear that the Ancient Sect of Nazarene Judaism held that Paul was an emissary to the Ephraimites.

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