At 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, Paul says: "And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law."

And in Philippians 1:18 he states: "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice."

These verses appear to support efforts to use deception in trying to gain Jewish converts to Christianity, e.g. calling pastors "rabbis" and calling churches "synagogues," or to use the name "Yeshua" in lieu of "Christ." Is that what Paul means -- "do whatever it takes" even deception and cammoflage to teach Jews about Christianity?

  • There is a Messianic Jewish movement today that does exactly as you say. Mainly it's made up of members who were raised traditionally Jewish, although some non-Jewish believers have affinity with them as well. They embrace Christianity from a Jewish perspective because that was how they were raised-Jewish. Paul and the early church weren't generally banned from the synagogues or Temple,(that came later), so he(and other) Apostles went and taught in the synagogues where they went.
    – Tau
    Aug 2, 2014 at 3:14

4 Answers 4


No, these verses don't promote deception for the sake of mission.

(1) 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 is set in the context of Paul defending his austere life-style as a counter-indicator of his apostleship.

As one of many signs of his self-abnegation, he claims to subordinate even his own identity to those to whom he speaks. The contrast does not stop with law/not-law (as in OP's selective quotation), but continues:

v. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

In no case does Paul "hide" who he is, or act falsely (let alone deceptively), although this policy could have left him open to such charges.1 However, he explicitly refutes such "techniques" in 2 Corinthians 4:2 -

[NET] But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God.

(2) Similarly, assessing Philippians 1:18 requires some context -- from v. 15 will do:

[NASB] 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense [εἴτε προφάσει] or in truth [εἴτε ἀληθείᾳ], Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Here, "pretense" [πρόφασις] (so NASB) refers not to Paul's efforts at proclamation, but those he characterizes in vv. 15 and 17 as those motivated by "envy and rivalry" as a means of provoking the imprisoned Paul. The term itself, prophasis, describes suspect motives (applied here to a group not friendly towards Paul), and this is the sense in which NASB's "pretense" should be understood.

There is no way this can be understood as promoting or condoning deceptive tactics in proclaiming the gospel.

It ought to be noted that the examples OP provides as possible dissembling, -- pastors/rabbis, synagogues/churches, "Yeshua in lieu of Christ" -- are in the first two cases anachronisms, while the last seems to me a misunderstanding.


  1. Well treated by G.G. Findlay in vol. 2 of the Expositor's Greek Testament commentary, pp. 853-855.

Paul states in 1 Cor. 9:20-22, that he meets people where they are spiritually. The passage of Scripture reads, "To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (NIV). The method proposed in this pericope is not manipulation but rather persuasion. The term "manipulate" is defined by Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as "2b : to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage". The word "persuade" is defined as 1: to move by argument, entreaty, or expostulation to a belief, position, or course of action". In 2 Corinthians 10:8, Paul states, "For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it" (NIV). The word "authority" is defined as "2a : power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior".

To conclude one would have to agree that any effective public speaker will utilize the art of persuasion including those speakers that encourage the audience to better themselves in certain areas of their lives. Paul, is no different, he states that for the sake of the Gospel he meets people where they are in their understanding of God. Furthermore, Paul states that he "boasts freely" and is not ashamed of the authority he has to persuade and/or influence for the purpose of building up people.


Messianic Jewish commentary by David Stern could be helpful in detailing some Jewish perspective on the verse 1Cor 9:20

With Jews, what I did was put myself in the position of a Jew, literally, “I became to the Jews as a Jew.” Three times in these verses Sha’ul says he “became as,” and once that he “became,” the distinctive attribute of a group of people; lastly he summarizes by saying that he has “become,” as KJV puts it, “all things to all men” (v. 22)—a phrase which today connotes being a deceiver or a chameleon who changes his behavior to suit his audience for the sake of an ulterior goal. We know that Sha’ul rebuked Kefa for behaving in this way (Ga 2:11–16&NN), but did he play the hypocrite himself? To the same Corinthian readership Sha’ul later wrote, “We refuse to make use of shameful underhanded methods” (2C 4:1–2&N), and then used three chapters of that letter to defend himself against such charges (2 Corinthians 10–12). He could hardly expect them to believe him there if in the present passage they were to understand him as teaching that the end justifies the means. More specifically, modern critics take this passage to mean that Sha’ul observed the Torah when he was with Jews but dispensed with it when with Gentiles. And not only those with an axe to grind say this of him; well-meaning Christian commentators friendly to him often appear to have an ethical blind spot which Sha’ul’s critics can exploit. However, I believe the commentators’ deficiency is not in the area of ethics but in the area of exegesis. Their misunderstanding of these verses forces them into a cul-de-sac from which their only escape is to appear to justify, or at least overlook, dissembling for the sake of the Kingdom of God. For they give his circumcising Timothy (Ac 16:1–3) as an example of “becoming as a Jew to the Jews” and “as under law to those under law”; and they cite his eating with Gentiles, whose food, presumably, was non-kosher (Ga 2:11–14&NN), to illustrate his “becoming as apart from law to those apart from law.” They reveal thereby three misinterpretations:

(1) They think “becoming as” means “behaving like,”

(2) They think “under law” means “expected to obey the Torah” and as a consequence equate “the Jews” with “those under law,”

(3) They seem unaware of the fact that being Jewish is not something one can put on or off at will.

In regard to the last of these, I have pointed out that Sha’ul never considered himself an ex-Jew (Ac 13:9N, 21:21). So even if he had not been a man of integrity, even if he had been willing to put on a façade of observing Jewish customs among Jews but not among Gentiles, he could hardly have flouted Jewish law among Gentiles without having his duplicity discovered and his credibility undone.

Since Sha’ul remained a Jew all his life, we can eliminate another misinterpretation of “becoming as”—“becoming something that one formerly was not.” In principle such exegesis could apply to Sha’ul’s becoming as “outside the Torah” (v. 21) or “weak” (v. 22), but not to his becoming as a Jew, since he already was one. One Gentile believer who converted to Judaism in order to evangelize Jews argued that by becoming “as a Jew to the Jews” he was only imitating Sha’ul. This I reject, for Sha’ul does not mean he changed his religious status or philosophical outlook to that of his hearers (but see 7:18&NN, Ga 5:2–4&N).

No, Sha’ul did not play charades in “becoming as” the people around him. What he did was empathize with them. He put himself in their position (hence the lengthy phrase I use to translate “became as”). He entered into their needs and aspirations, their strengths and weaknesses, their opportunities and constraints, their ideas and feelings and values—in short, to use the current vernacular, he tried to understand “where they were coming from.” In addition he made a point of doing nothing to offend them (10:32). Having established common ground with those he was trying to reach, he could then communicate the Good News in patterns familiar to them, using rabbinical teaching methods with Jews, philosophical thought-forms with Greeks. With the “weak” he could bear with their overscrupulousness, because he understood its origin (8:7–12). He did everything possible to overcome all barriers—psychological, social, and especially cultural; for he knew that the task of communicating the Good News had been entrusted to him (vv. 15–18, 23), and he could not expect others to meet him halfway. But he never condescended by imitating or feigning ungodliness or legalistic compulsiveness or “weak” scrupulosity, for the degree to which he would change his behavior to make them feel at ease was always constrained by his living “within the framework of Torah as upheld by the Messiah” (v. 21). Moreover, Sha’ul’s strategy of removing unnecessary barriers between himself and those whom he hoped to win to faith, far from being outside the pale of what Judaism can consider ethical behavior, was anticipated by Hillel when he accepted as a proselyte a Gentile who insisted on being taught the Torah “while standing on one foot” (Shabbat 31a, quoted in Mt 7:12N; but on this also see David Daube’s The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, University of London: The Athlone Press, 1956; reprinted by Arno Press, 1973; Part III, chapter 11).

In order to win Jews. In v. 19 Sha’ul announced that his goal was “to win as many people as possible,” that is, as many of all kinds of people as he could. By “winning” them, of course, he means getting them to realize that they are sinners who need God’s forgiveness and can obtain it only by accepting Yeshua’s atoning death on their behalf. For a discussion of the Jewish antecedents of the Greek word for “win,” kerdainoÆ, see Part III, chapter 12 of Rabbi Daube’s book cited above.

Note that Jews are not exempt from needing God’s forgiveness through Yeshua; if they were, Sha’ul would not be making efforts “to win Jews.” Those in the Jewish community today who object to evangelistic targeting of Jews should be aware that Sha’ul gave “winning Jews” as one of his specific goals; and at the end of this section of his letter he exhorts believers to imitate him (11:1). Those who urge followers of Yeshua to desist from evangelizing Jewish people are either unaware of what this verse means or consciously inciting them to violate a religious precept.

  • You might want to have a look at this link Sep 23, 2016 at 20:51
  • ok, I will try to summarize the answer more from next time.
    – Michael16
    Sep 24, 2016 at 6:01

The reference to 1 Cor 9:20-21 points to a statement by Paul where he is saying that when he talks to Jews, he speaks as a Jew. It would be useless to talk to them as he would to gentiles - and offensive to them. He is pointing out that he adjusts his arguments to meet the understanding of the one who is listening to him. He would have to explain 'Messiah' to the gentile, but not to the Jew, for example.

The reference to Philippians 1:18 is almost disingenuous because it ignores the obvious answer given in verse 15 and 17, and so it is out of context to claim that he is supporting use of pretense - he is saying that it is true that some preach for the wrong reason (that would be pretense), but either way doesn't matter - the good news is being spread. The fate of those who use pretense is not up to him (Paul). To say that he is somehow advocating for it is somewhat jaundiced it would seem. Even Jesus said - if they are not against us, they are for us -. But that said, I don't think that a proven liar makes a good evangelist, unless a repentant one.

The statement that indicates that Paul and other apostles taught in synagogues is interesting, seeing as how before Paul was called Paul, he was Saul and was going about the country attempting to bring the heretics to justice so they could be killed. That was his job until he was unseated from his pomposity by Jesus - for the most part, the Jews of the day who followed Christ after the Crucifixion could not be allowed in the synagogues for fear of great punishment. The Apostles tried, but were generally kicked out. I have a hard time to imagine that any Christians would risk going to the synagogue in order to allow the people like Saul to capture them to bring them to trial.

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