Paul had a seemingly insurmountable task: to make intelligible to a conservative, establishment Roman Empire the good news of a Palestinian Jewish end-time figure who had inaugurated a secret, alternative kingdom.
So Paul had to be both a conservative and radical. He was conservative for strategic reasons; to reach his culture, he learned how to communicate Christ’s message in the most intelligible forms (without compromising its content).
At the same time, Paul was radical: he inherited from Jesus a radical gospel and took the implications of that gospel to its radical conclusions.
Judaism at Its Best
Much of the aristocracy of the first-century Empire, especially in Rome, was threatened by changes in the status of women, former slaves, and foreigners. Leaders were disturbed that “Eastern cults,” like Judaism and the cult of Isis, were making converts among Roman aristocrats, especially among women. So they felt it was essential to preserve traditional religion and other elements of society if social order was to be preserved.
What was an early Christian missionary to do in such a setting? Since Christianity was born out of Judaism, one approach was to appeal to Gentiles who already appreciated Judaism. Sometimes Paul, therefore, explained that Jesus was the hope of Jewish history and prophecy; faith in Jesus constituted the right form of Judaism (Acts 13:16–49, Rom. 4, 9–11).
Paganism at Its Best
But many Romans and Greeks confused Judaism with the cults of Dionysus and Isis, which they accused of being immoral. Other Greeks and Romans detested circumcision as a form of mutilation, ridiculed the Sabbath as an excuse for laziness, and mocked Jewish food laws as utter foolishness.
So another strategy of Jewish apologists was to ...