The Issue Of Gentile Inclusion In The Early Church: Reading Acts 10, 11, 15 and Galatians

The Issue Of Gentile Inclusion In The Early Church: Reading Acts 10, 11, 15 and Galatians

  1. Introduction Christianity was born in the land of the Jews and was cradled in the Jewish environment, and grew up in the midst of Jewish life, culture and religious practices. Yet when the proper time came for it to leave its ancestral home, it left without any hesitation (as a bride leaving her parents) to become a world-wide religion. This paper is trying to explore how Luke and Paul resolved the tension of Gentile inclusion in the early church, which was composed of individuals and household of diverse ethnic backgrounds, religious tradition and social status, specifically to the problem as outlined in Acts 10, 11, and 15 and Galatians.
  2. Overview on “The Book of Acts” In the middle of 19th century when the Tubingen school (F.C. Bauer and his disciples) argued that Acts pursues a definite theological “tendency.” The turn of the 20th century witnessed the work of two great scholars, Adolf Harnack and William Ramsay, both of whom made a strong case for the essential historicity of Acts.[1]The book of Acts supplies a sequel to the third Gospel, written by the same person, traditionally identified as “Luke”. The Book of Acts records the founding of the church and the spread of its message to the Roman Empire. Certain members of this group began to preach to Gentiles and took on the name “Christians’.  The rest of Acts chronicles the fulfilment of threefold programs: (i) the mission in Jerusalem fails as Jewish leaders reject the message and persecute the Christians, (ii) the mission to Samaria and Judea serves as a transition to the Gentile mission, (iii) the Gentile mission succeeds with the conversion of Cornelius, the establishment of a Gentile church in Antioch, the Jerusalem Conference that frees Gentiles converts from the Law, and the missionary journeys of Paul among Gentiles.[2]

III. Overview on “The Letter of Paul to the Galatians”                                                                In any case, Paul wrote the letter of Galatians from Macedonia or Archaia in the early 50s AD, in response to the situation there. Paul addresses the Galatian letter to “the churches in Galatians” (Gauls). The question of whether Gentile converts had to keep the Law thus became a central issue in the early church. This issue occupies the central place in two of Paul’s letters: Galatians & Romans. Paul wrote Galatians in the heat of the battle to churches that were being persuaded to accept the teaching of the conservatives. He uses strong and passionate language to warn the Galatian churches against relying on the Law of Moses instead of faith in Christ.[3]

  1. Jerusalem Conference After Barnabas and Paul return, a controversy arises in the church, conservative Judaic Christian from Judea came to Antioch and argued that Gentile converts had to be circumcised[4] and taught to keep the Law of Moses. In effect they argue that Gentile must become Jews in order to share in the promises to Israel,[5] the Jewish leaders had no difficulty with the general concept of believing Gentiles, for many Old Testament passages predicted their inclusion.[6] Paul and Barnabas resist this perspective. However, the Jerusalem agreement did not solve all the problems; specifically, the question of whether Jewish Christians could share meals with gentiles who did not keep the Jewish food laws.[7] The followings are the Jerusalem Conference in Acts and Galatians:

(a) The Acts of the Apostles                                                                                                            

In Acts 15, the first and only church council found in scripture dealt with the relationship between these two groups. The controversy specifically was that some Jewish Christians felt that Gentiles would need to first become Jews (“be circumcised”) and follow the Jewish law and customs before they could be saved. The Law indeed made a difference between Jew and Greek.[8] Paul and Barnabas felt that they were not bound to the Jewish law. The apostles debated this point extensively. The conclusion, stated by Peter, was that Gentiles did not need to follow the Jewish law to become Christians, for “we believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:11).

b) The letter of Paul to the Galatians The book of Galatians deals specifically with the issue resolved in the Jerusalem council. Paul scolds the Galatians for demanding that the Gentiles follow the Jewish law and for the conflicts between the two. His point is that neither the Jew nor the Gentile can earn their salvation (cf. Galatians 3:23-29). Since we all find salvation through faith rather than through obedience to the law, there is now no distinction between Jew and Greek. Neither is their distinction between male and female, nor slave or master.[9] It means rather that “as regards our standing before God”, because we are “in Christ” and enjoy a common relationship to him, racial, national, social and sexual distinctions are irrelevant.[10] All are one in Christ.

  1. The Gentile mission In telling the story of the Gentile inclusion in early church or mission, Acts focuses on four central events: the conversion of Cornelius, the establishment of a Gentile Church, the Jerusalem Conference, and the missionary journey of Paul. First, Peter inaugurates the Gentile inclusion in early church or mission. Directed by a series of revelations from God, he preaches to Cornelius and his household who are Gentile God-fearers. God thus confirms that the message of eternal life in Christ is for all nations (not limited to Jews).             Second, a Gentile church is established in Antioch of Syria. When believers in Antioch begin to preach to Gentiles, the apostles at Jerusalem send a man named Barnabas to oversee the church there. It is here that the believers are first called Christians. When Peter returned to Jerusalem, he was accused not simply of taking the gospel to Gentiles, but of eating with them (11:2), i.e., of violating the Jewish Law. The “circumcision party” who brought these charges were Jewish Christians who refused to recognize any divergence between Judaism and Christianity. For them Christianity was the fulfilment of Judaism, not its successor. Peter successfully defended his break with Jewish practices by relating God’s obvious acceptance of the Gentiles.[11]
  2. Third, the Jerusalem Conference decides that Gentile converts do not have to keep the Jewish Law. In Antioch, certain Jewish Christians maintained that Gentile converts had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. This meeting, the Jerusalem Conference, upholds the teaching of Paul and Barnabas that Gentiles are saved through faith in Jesus, not by becoming Jews and keeping the Law. It also shows that Christianity can no longer be considered merely a sect of Judaism; it is now a separate religion, in which Gentiles have equal access to God with Jews on the same basis (faith).
  3. Fourthly and finally, Paul’s missionary journeys illustrate the transition from Jew to Gentile. The account of Paul’s missionary activity takes up the entire second half of Acts (Acts 13-28). In Paul’s preaching, a patter develops: he first preaches to Jews, who rejects the message; he then turns to Gentiles, who accept it. Luke introduces this pattern in the first story about Paul’s missionary preaching (13:46). This concluding statement of Paul in Acts 10, 11, and 15 summarizes it central message: because Israel rejected God’s salvation, that salvation has been sent to the Gentiles. Gentiles are now the legitimate heirs of God’s promises to Israel.[12] Salvation is through Christ, and since it is to include Gentiles (of all); the law cannot be imposed as an entrance requirement.[13]
  4. Conflict between Jew and Gentile in the early church After Paul left Galatia, a problem arose. Someone, precisely who is uncertain, began to teach that Gentile converts had to be circumcised and keep the Jewish Law in order to be saved.[14]Jew-Gentile relations were the central issue of the early church. Whether in a theological question of whether or not Gentiles needed to follow the Jewish law or be it in divisive attitudes and behaviours found within Jews and Greeks in the church, [15] the inclusion of Gentiles into the church was the focus of much of the New Testament, and especially the writing of Paul.

VII. The Issue of gentile Inclusion in the early church: Acts 10, 11, 15 and Galatians 

Jews are the nation God chose as his own special nation, chosen to be his representatives throughout the world (Gen. 12:1-3). In the Jewish Morning Prayer, which Paul must all his pre-Christian life have used, the Jew thanks God that “Thou, O Lord…who did not make me a Gentile, a slave or a woman.”[16] The Gentiles are everyone else.

A key issue the early Christian Church faced in regards to new converts and law was how much the Jewish customs and traditions that had been the background of the earliest Apostles and converts should persist. The Law is at a double remove from God, given first to angels, and then to a mediator; and the mediator is Moses, the Law is a second-hand thing.[17] Paul argues that whatever may be the differences between Jews and Gentiles, the coming of Christ has had the same effect on both. God had sent His Son to redeem both “those who were under the Law”, and those who had served other gods.[18] Paul felt that since Jesus had fulfilled the law, the requirements of the law were not necessary for salvation and the Christian covenant was beyond these Jewish aspects, thus making it unnecessary for Gentiles to comply, although many Jewish Christians. Peter encouraged the council not to put a yoke (the Law of Moses) upon them that they would not be able to bear. Paul and Barnabas likewise spoke of the many spiritual experiences they had shared with the Gentiles as evidence of God’s acceptance of the Gentiles’ conversion. Finally James, the brother of Jesus, who had become the spiritual head of the Jerusalem church,[19] continued to do so. These opposing viewpoints occasionally clashed and resulted in a council in Jerusalem around AD 50 to settle the matter (Acts 15).

Abraham is not merely the father of the chosen nation of Israel but the father of all believers (Jews or Gentiles, uncircumcised or circumcised through faith in Jesus Christ.[20] This includes all nations of every race, colour and language.[21] Jesus is both fully an individual person and also the Representative of all persons. The fact that he was a male no more limits those who speak in his name to males than the fact that he was a Jew limits those who speak in his name to Jews. God is both beyond gender, neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Gentile.[22] Paul in Galatians 3:28 was not making an abstract theological statement. He was in fact making an answer to problems caused by a socially- mixed church and those who would seek to exclude Gentiles from having equal access to privileges found in Christ.[23]                                        There are two vivid pictures in “who have been baptized into Christ has put on Christ. Baptism was a Jewish rite.[24] It a man wished to accept the Jewish faith he had to do 3 things (viz., to be circumcised, to offer sacrifice and to be baptized). Baptism was no mere outward form; it was a real union with Christ.[25] This means that they receive a new nature which is renewed according to the image of the Creator (cf. Col.3:10).[26] The result is that in the church there was no difference between any of the members, they had all become sons of God. Because the church is made up of people, it has no boundaries.[27] The beneficiaries of the new salvation are not to be just the people of Judah alone, but all the nations.[28]The church must be a sign of the kingdom with in human history.[29]In v.28 Paul says that the distinction between Jew and Gentile, slave and free man, male and female is wiped out. Paul takes that the Jewish Morning Prayer and reverses it. The old distinctions were gone; all were one in Christ. It is not the fore of man but the love of God which alone can unite a disunited world.[30] Today Christianity is the largest religion of the world as it has been spread through conquest and missionary efforts into many parts of the globe.

VIII. Evaluation                                                                                                                               

The Holy Spirit, the spirit of Jesus all that is oppressed (Acts 10:38). While Peter was preaching, the Holy Spirit descended on the Gentiles. The real problem occurred between Punjabi Christians and Dalits Christian is in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and the other church services.[31] The social discrimination they suffer within the Christian community is brought into focus of many in the church.[32]Having learned and mentioned the love of God, the gentile inclusion in early church, the Indian Church should know that equality is intrinsic to the makeup of mankind, however downtrodden and oppressed.[33] Even the Dalits were known as “Harijans” (name was given by Gandhi) the children of God or the friend of God. But when the name was proposed nearly all temples had been long closed to Dalits. They are called children of God without the right to enter into the House of God.[34] How free is the church in India of regionalism, caste-class discrimination, corruption etc. to fight these very same evils in society in the name of Good News?[35]However because of some social reformer today the temple is open for all, after the independence religious freedom was given to all. The Gentile-consciousness of the New Testament can confess that “Once we were no people but now we are God’s people”.[36] The Dalit consciousness in India cannot say even that much.

Conclusion There was conflict between the doctrine of the Church and Jewish culture. The long-standing cultural tradition persisted among many Jewish members for years, even after the Jerusalem Conference. The resolution of the problem, Gentile inclusion in the church, reported in the book of Acts and Galatians give our present generation an informative model as to how both Church members and those of different faiths may react when revelation confronts tradition and long-standing custom. Racial distinctions are irrelevant in the church and the practice of racial discrimination and caste systems in the church is sinful. As Gentiles are finally included in the church today Dalits’ political and Spiritual poverty is precondition for approaching to God. Although the Dalits have not reached their ultimate goal, they are confident that the Jesus of Palestine or the more immediately, the Jesus of India is in the midst of the liberation struggle of the Dalits of India as early Gentiles people. Dalits’ struggle is not yet over that lie ahead.

Bibliography

  1. Ao, Lima. “Stephen, the Hellenists and the early gentile Mission,” Class Note on Life and Ministry of the Early Christians According to Acts of the Apostles. India: n.p., 2011.
  2. Augustine, Mithra G. “The Indian Socio-Political System and Good News to the Poor”, in Good News to the Poor: The Challenge to the Church, eds., Sebastian C.H. Kim and Krickwin C. Marak. Delhi: ISPCK, 1998.
  3. Barbara, “Paul’s Understanding of Life in Christ”, Assignment on Pauline Thought. India: n.p., 2001.
  4. Barclay, William. The letters to the Galatians and Ephesians. Bangalore: Theological Publications in India, 2001.
  5. Bilezikian, Gilbert. Beyond Sex Roles. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986.
  6. Burkett, Delbert. An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  7. Daalen, David H. Van. A Guide to Galatians. Delhi: ISPCK, 1998.
  8. D’souza, Joseph. Dalit Freedom: Now and Forever. Secunderabad: Dalit Freedom Network, 2006.
  9. Devasaham, “Identity in Theology”, in Frontiers of Dalit Theology. Gurukul: ISPCK, 1996.
  10. Donaldson, Terence L. Paul and The Gentiles: Remapping the Apostle’s Convictional World. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.
  11. Gutierrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation. New York: Orbis Books, 1995.
  12. Henry, Matthew. “Acts to Revelation”, in Matthew Henry’s Commentary, vol. 6 (USA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2000.
  13. Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1992.
  14. Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament, ed., Donald A. Hagner. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.
  15. Maggay, Melba Padilla,ed. Women, culture and revelation. Delhi: Regnum- Asia Books, 1994.
  16. Massey, James. “Dalit Roots of Indian Christianity”, in Frontiers of Dalit Theology, ed., V. Deva Sahayam. Gurukul: ISPCK, 1997.
  17. Michael, S.M. SVD. Dlaits’ Encounter with Christianity: A Case Study Of Mahars In Maharashtra. Pune: ISPCK, 2010.
  18. Newsome, James D. Jr. The Hebrew Prophets. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1973.
  19. Nirmal, Arvind P. “Towards a Christian Dalit Theology”, in Emerging Dalit Theology, ed. Xavier Irudayaraj, S.J. Madras: Jesuit Theological Secretatiate, 1990.
  20. Robertson, Dwight. Plan A. And There’s No Plan B. Colorado: Kingdom Building Ministries, 2006.
  21. Ruether, Rosemary Radford. “The Task Of Feminist Theology”, in Doing Theology in Today’s World, eds., John D. Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991.
  22. Stott, John. Issues Facing Christians Today. Bombay: Gospel Literature Service, 1989.
  23. Stott, John R.W. The Message of Acts. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990.
  24. Stott, John R.W. The Message of Galatians. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973.
  25. Thang, Beechy Ram Tin. “Is Luke historian or theologian?” in Assignment on Life and Ministry of the Early Christians According to Acts of the Apostles. India: n.p., 2011.

 

Webibliography

1.http://www.gcfweb.org/institute/nt/ephesians/ephesians04.html, August 10th, 2012.

2.http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/shedding-light-new-testament/1-book-acts-pattern-modern-church-growth, August 10th, 2012.

 

[1] Beechy Ram Tin Thang, “Is Luke historian or theologian?”  In Assignment on Life and Ministry of the Early Christians According to Acts of the Apostles (India: n.p., 2011), 1.

[2] Delbert Burkett, An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 308.

[3] Delbert Burkett, op.cit., 304.

[4] Ibid.,308.

[5] Delbert Burkett, op.cit., 280.

[6] John R.W. Stott, The Message of Acts (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 240.

[7] Delbert Burkett, An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity, 308.

[8] Matthew Henry, “Acts to Revelation”, in Matthew Henry’s Commentary, vol. 6 (USA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2000), 534.

[9] http://www.gcfweb.org/institute/nt/ephesians/ephesians04.html, August 10th, 2012.

[10] John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (Bombay: Gospel Literature Service, 1989), 241.

[11] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, ed., Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 391.

[12] Rev. Lima Ao, “Stephen, The Hellenists And The Early Gentile Mission,” Class Note on Life and Ministry of the Early Christians According to Acts of the Apostles (India: n.p., 2011), 2.

[13] Terence L.Donaldson, Paul and The Gentiles: Remapping the Apostle’s Convictional World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 11.

[14] Delbert Burkett, 310.

[15] http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/shedding-light-new-testament/1-book-acts-pattern-modern-church-growth, August 10th, 2012.

[16] Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1992), 161.

[17] William Barclay, The letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Bangalore: Theological Publications in India, 2001), 30.

[18] David H. Van Daalen, A Guide to Galatians (New Delhi: ISPCK, 1998), 64.

[19] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 392.

[20] Barbara, “Paul’s Understanding of Life in Christ”, Assignment on Pauline Thought (India: n.p., 2001), 3.

[21] John R.W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 100.

[22] Rosemary Radford Ruether, “The Task of Feminist Theology”, in Doing Theology in Today’s World, eds., John D. Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 373.

[23] Melba Padilla Maggay, ed., Women, culture and revelation (New Delhi: Regnum- Asia Books, 1994), 63.

[24] The man to be baptized cut his hair and his nails; he undressed completely; the baptismal bath had to contain 40 seahs that is 2 hogsheads, of water. Every part of the body had to be touched with the water. While still in the water, parts of the law were read to him, words of encouragement were addressed to him, and benedictions were pronounced upon him. When he emerged he was a member of the Jewish faith; it was through baptism that he entered into that faith.

[25] William Barclay, The letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, 32-33.

[26] Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 126.

[27] Dwight Robertson, Plan A. And There’s No Plan B (Colorado: Kingdom Building Ministries, 2006), 141.

[28] James D. Newsome, Jr. The Hebrew Prophets (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1973), 151.

[29] Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis Books, 1995), xli.

[30] William Barclay, 142.

[31] James Massey, “Dalit Roots of Indian Christianity”, in Frontiers of Dalit Theology, ed., V. Deva Sahayam (Gurukul: ISPCK, 1997), 194.

[32] S.M. Michael SVD, Dlaits’ Encounter with Christianity: A Case Study Of Mahars In Maharashtra (Pune: ISPCK, 2010), 46.

[33] Joseph D’souza, Dalit Freedom: Now and Forever (Secunderabad: Dalit Freedom Network, 2006), 79.

[34] Devasaham, “Identity in Theology”, Frontiers of Dalit Theology (Gurukul: ISPCK, 1996), 13-14.

[35] Mithra G. Augustine, “The Indian Socio-Political System and Good News to the Poor”, in Good News to the Poor: The Challenge to the Church, eds., Sebastian C.H. Kim and Krickwin C. Marak (Delhi: ISPCK, 1998), 151.

[36] Arvind P. Nirmal, “Towards a Christian Dalit Theology”, in Emerging Dalit Theology, ed. Xavier Irudayaraj, S.J. (Madras: Jesuit Theological Secretatiate, 1990), 133-134.

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