You can find my first post on the Jewish/Gentile issue here.
The New Testament is chalk full of references to this Jew/Gentile issue, and it addresses it from many different angles. While it was certainly not the only issue the first century church encountered, it was probably the biggest one.
In this post, I thought I would just trace some of the places in the NT that deal with the Jews and Gentiles along with the accompanying issues that arise from it. Thinking through this list has impressed upon me the great tension, confusion and fierce resistance that must have existed to prompt the writing we find in the NT. The themes below admittedly overlap, but there is a distinction within each issue.
- The Inclusion of the Gentiles. Matthew begins his Gospel by tracing the genealogy of Jesus, and he includes four Gentile women in the process. The Gospel of Luke seems to make a concerted effort to show the inclusion of the Gentiles. His Gospel depicts more Gentile encounters with Jesus than the others. Many parables seem to pointedly address the need for Jewish repentance, and the lowly esteemed Samaritans and Gentiles are used as characters who display more righteousness than the Jewish, religious leaders. The Gospel of John speaks of “other sheep” that Jesus would shepherd. Luke’s second volume, Acts, shows the historical development of Gentile inclusion. After Peter received a vision, he realized that Gentiles could become Christians through the proclamation of the gospel, and the apostle Paul devotes his life to this mission, as witnessed in Acts.
- Compelling the Gentiles to Become Jews. There were some in the first century who sought to force Jewish social and national practices upon all Christian converts, including the Gentiles. These particular issues usually revolved around circumcision, observance of days and dietary considerations. “The party of the circumcision” would have been a militant faction of the Jews who demanded adherence to Jewish practices by the Gentiles (Acts 11:2; Gal. 2:12; Titus 1:10). This forced conversion to Jewish practices was at the heart of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, and many subsequent encounters with Jews in Paul’s preaching trips. The books of Galatians and Romans are polemical in nature and address this Jewish mentality. Romans 14, Col. 2:16-17; 1 Cor. 8; Gal. 4:10 and Phil. 3:2-3 all refer to at least some of these Jewish social and religious boundary markers.
- The Role of the Law. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is the first place to start in the treatment of the Law. Jesus claims that the Law was not abrogated but fulfilled in him. He sets up 7 antitheses in a treatment of the Law. Jesus was likely contrasting Jewish perversion of the Law and not the Law itself, but his words provide a starting place for consideration of the Law in Christianity. There are extensive treatments of the Law in Galatians and Romans. Ephesians 2 refers to the Law as the dividing wall of partition, and Colossians 2:9 states that Jesus canceled out the certificate of debt, contained in ordinances, on the cross. The pastorals (Timothy and Titus) urge Christians to turn away from myths, and Titus specifies “Jewish myths,” which likely involved some interpretation of the Law. Yet, the Mosaic Law points to Christ and was used to persuade others that Jesus was the Messiah. Romans 15:4 and 1 Cor. 10:11 speak of the OT as being beneficial for Christian reading and evaluation.
When you survey the NT, it appears that nearly every book at least broaches the Jewish/Gentile issue, if not devoting major attention to the subject. If it commanded this much attention by the early Biblical authors, it should be a subject that we consider deeply.
Next, I plan to discuss some implications and applications for our present day. Look out for that in the next day or two.