Acts 15:5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”

The above reference represents a majority opinion of Jewish Christians regarding the salvation of gentiles (most of us!) and the acceptance of gentile Christians into the Christianity community (church). In your studies of the New Testament, have you noticed the majority of Jewish Christians rejected gentile Christians? Most Jewish Christians accepted the salvation of gentiles only if those gentiles adopted Jewish forms, customs, and traditions. To raise your awareness of that fact, read Acts 11:3 concerning the reaction of apostles and Jewish brethren to the conversion of a gentile. Read about the Acts 15:1 debate Paul and Barnabas could not resolve. Read the concern of the Jerusalem elders in Acts 21:20-22. Read Paul’s confused reaction to some gentile Christians who yielded to Jewish Christians’ demands (Galatians 1:6, 7.)

Jewish people knew gentiles could be saved. They converted gentile God fearers to Judaism before Christianity existed. Read Matthew 23:15. The issue was not can gentiles be saved? The issue concerned what is the proper method for saving gentiles? The position of many Jewish Christians: God’s grace declared in Jesus’ sacrifice combined with immersion into Christ is not enough. It is only enough if gentiles first are indoctrinated in and accept Jewish ways prior to entering Christ.

A typical mindset of Jewish Christians in the first century followed this reasoning: Gentiles are immoral people who worship weird things in weird ways (read Romans 1:20-23). Saving gentiles requires two things: (1) First, they must be taught to abandon their pagan ways. (2) Second, they must be taught to adopt the ways of the living God. Only if they are taught our ways can that happen.

When Peter understood that God accepted gentiles as quickly as He did Jews (Acts 10:34, 35), and when Paul evangelized gentiles to Jesus Christ without imposing Jewish ways on them, many if not most Jewish Christians reacted in horror and disbelief. The thought that people could belong to God without following Jewish ways was unthinkable in most Jewish minds! Not only was it unthinkable, it was repulsive!

These Christians made Paul’s life miserable! They questioned his credibility (read his defense against such accusations in Galatians 1:11 through chapter 2.) They accused him of things he did not do (read Acts 21:20 and 21:28). They even attempted to kill him (read Acts 9:29, 30 and Acts 20:3). Paul spent his life passing from one awkward situation to another. Though he loved his people deeply (Romans 9:1-5), his own people constantly threatened him and his work.

Jewish people knew beyond all doubt their way of living, worship, and doing things was the only way God noticed and accepted. That is the way Paul thought before he understood God’s work in Jesus Christ. Read Acts 8:1-3 and 1 Timothy 1:12-16. Paul finally understood (1) who Jesus was and (2) God’s achievements in Jesus. Those realizations turned Paul’s understanding and life around—180 degrees! Never stop growing in your understanding of God’s work in Jesus Christ.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 24 March 2005

 Link to next article

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell