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Individual Assignment

Gentile Conversion Robert E.C. Jones, Jr. Grand Canyon University: BIB502 New Testament Foundations May 19, 2011


This paper intends to observe and highlight certain events which occurred during the first-century of the Christian movement. The timeline that will be under review is the period in early Christian church history when Apostle Paul traveled his first and second missionary journeys (AD 33-51). The paper will give particular attention to some of the underlying events that caused the split of the early Christianity and Judaism during Apostle Pauls missionary journeys, and will furthermore, investigate and describe the major obstacles the Gentiles faced in converting to Christianity and how these challenges were different from those of the Jewish converts.


The Apostle Paul, who wrote several New Testament letters that are books included in the Holy Bible, is recognized as one of the most intriguing and influencing figures known in the founding years of the early first-century Christian church. Paul, who experienced a miraculous conversion, was the first to travel widely throughout the Eastern hemisphere telling people about Christ Jesus, and who proclaimed the Gospel and its Christian message of faith, and promoted Christian doctrines. The primary impact which Paul has left upon Christianity is that he has been seen (although born a Diaspora Jew) as a non-Jewish prophet who brought, in the most usual and extraordinary way, the message of a Messiah who was crucified and resurrected. The Apostle Paul, who was religiously trained as a Pharisee, originally embraced, understood, and interpreted the Scriptures in the traditions of early Jewish practices and rituals. However, What we find in Paul, and indeed among most of the early Christians, is a slightly ironic twist of fatein Pauls view it is the messianic identity of Jesus that is an important new element in this [his] very traditional Jewish message (White, 2010, PBS documentary). Mark Ellingsen, author of the book, Reclaiming Our Roots: An Introduction to Church History, Volume 1, The Late First Century to the Eve of the Reformation, cites on page 9 in his book that: No history of Christianity can begin without some attention to the historical-cultural context in which Christianity began. Much of its subsequent historyis a direct consequence of Christianitys origins as a

4 first-century Jewish sect in a backwater province of the Roman Empire. But, before we explore any of the history events it important that we take a snapshot of Pauls life before he became a new Christian. In order to understand the dynamics of Christianitys history as it unfolded, it is paramount that anyone seeking to understand Pauls plights in ministry has in the background of their mind some relative understanding of The Apostle Pauls pre-Christian life. In short summary, Paul was a Jew born in Tarsus, but lived at least a part of his life and was educated in Jerusalem (Acts 9:11, 30; 11:25; 21:39). Although he was a Hebrew, born of Hebrew parents, he was considered a Roman citizen (Phil 3:5; 2 Cor 11:22; Acts 22:25-29; 23:27). He was bi-lingual and bi-cultural, which made him an ideal person to spread the gospel in the Roman Empire during the early beginnings of Christianity. He was surnamed Saul, but later changed his name to Paul (Acts 7:5813:9; 22:7; 26:14). Saul (Paul) was raised as a very zealous Pharisee (Phil 3:5; Acts 23:69; 26:5). And, most significantly in the scheme of Christianity, he began persecuting those who were recognized as followers of Jesus because he, without any question, believed that Jesus messianic message was incompatible with Judaism (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:5-6; 1 Cor 15:9; Acts 7:58; 8:1; 9:1-2; 23:3-5: 26:4-12). However, despite Pauls upbringing, while he was traveling on the road to Damascus Jesus revealed Himself to Paul in a vision and he was converted. He then began professing the message of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (Gal 1:11-12, 15-16; 1 Cor 15:8-10; Act 9:3-30; 22:6-21; 26:12-18). Shortly thereafter, Paul is found actively preaching the gospel of Jesus in Arbia, Damascus, and Syria despite much opposition (Gal 1:17-24; 2 Cor 11:23-33).

5 Difficulties Paul Encountered on His Missionary Journeys

Pauls Early Ministry After being forced out of the synagogues in Damascus because of his new Christian beliefs, Paul went to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples. But, thought they had heard of his conversion, they were all yet afraid of him because of his reputation as a persecutor of Christians. But, Barnabas received him and introduced him to the apostles and explained how Paul had seen the Lord and been converted. Barnabas, too, explained what had been seen in witness as Paul spoke of Jesus with boldness (Acts 9:6-8; 26-30; 11:25-30; 12:25). When the disciples realized all this, they took Paul to Caesarea and sent him to Tarsus, and sometime later, took Paul to Antioch where he was commissioned to go along with Barnabas on their first missionary journey to Cyprus, Pamphylia, and Phrygia (Acts 13-14). As Paul traveled, he spoke mostly to people who were Jews since they already knew God in keeping with the Law. He also proclaimed his message to the Gentile Greeks as well, telling them all the good news of the Lord Jesus. Paul, in his Christian faith, explained how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies that the Jewish people believed. Many Gentiles believed him. And, some Jews believed him, but many did notincluding civil authoritiesand they all strongly objected to what he had to say. Moreover, while at Antioch, Paul and Barnabas had a need to break up and go their separate ways because of an incident at Antioch (Gal 2:11-14; Acts 15:36-41). The incident developed when Paul healed a man that had been crippled. According to the people who observed this miracle, they thought that Paul and Barnabas were portrayed as gods and did not have any inclinations about the power of God Almighty operating. This

6 created a scene whereby Jewish authorities, who did not like the message concerning Jesus, turned stone-throwing the crowds against Paul and Barnabas. So, they left and crossed over in Pamphylia were they proclaimed their message for a considerable time.

Pauls Middle Period of Ministry (Acts 15:40-18:23) After Paul and Barnabas had sailed away from where they had been during the first missionary journey, Paul suggested that they re-visit the places they had gone before. However, this time Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them. Paul did not agree on this, and decided to go with the company of another, named Silas, while Barnabas traveled to Cyprus with John Mark. This second missionary journey proved to be different than Paul expected. With plans to go to Asia, Paul and Silas ended up in Macedonia, which was a pagan town under Roman rule. There, Pauls audiences were sometimes Jews, but more often were Greeks who believed in God and others who did not. In Greece, Paul encouraged many believers. He also helped many of them with various sorts of problems and challenges as new believers. One issue in particular arose when the local silversmiths got angry because the new religion that Paul taught caused the people to believe that there was only one God. And that they, therefore, had no need to purchase the statues of the Greek pagan gods. This, of course, created lost wages for the silversmiths, and less taxation for the Roman government. As they continued to travel, more troubled was stirred up nearly everywhere they went. At Thessalonica, Paul and Silas convert large numbers of people. But, they continue to infuriate many Jews who believe that they had come there to cause trouble. In Corinth, Paul was given the opportunity to continue to speak in the synagogue to

7 persuade Jews and Greeks in Christianityshowing that them that Jesus is Christ. However, they turned against him and abused him. Paul charged them with debilitating threats and made it clear that, from now on, he would only preach the gospel to the Gentiles, then left and taught them of Gods message in Ephesus and Caesarea.

Major Obstacles the Gentiles Faced in Converting to Christianity

At the time of Pauls missionary journeys, the Roman Empire was the premier power in the world. And, in Rome, Judaism had been viewed as the favorably religion even though Christianity was being spread widely to the Jewish people and any others who would listen to this Gospel message of good news. But, as circumstances changed in times in Rome when Jews were being expelled, the Jews began leaving the synagogues for their safety, it became easy for Gentiles to the hear the gospel message as young congregation were found left in the hands of Gentile converts after the Roman Emperor demanded that all Jews vacate Rome (Acts 18:2). These Gentile converts were appreciative of the doctrines, however, the major obstacle to their conversion was circumcision, which was looked upon as self-mutilation by Romans (White, 2008, pg. 1). And, there were yet another major issue: as the Gentiles continued to reject the Judaic roots of their religion, catholic Christians increasingly viewed Jews as a problem because for the Gentiles, only Pauls doctrines of love represented true Christianity (White, 2008, pg. 3). These tenets of thought ushered in new tensions and conflicts that leveled dissentions, criticisms, and desertions of Jewish traditions and set barriers between Gentiles who wanted to earnestly contend for the faith, and the Judeo-Christians.

8 Pauls best remedy for the disunity was the Gospel. So, he therefore wrote an exposition that explained the doctrines of the Christian church and admonished them all, as Gentile and Jewish believers, to be with one mind and one voiceglorify God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (15:6), continuing on he furthermore encouraged them to accept one another, just as Christ accepted you (15:7).

9 Conclusion

T. V. Philip, a church historian born in India who has worked and taught in India, Europe, USA, and Australia, has provided a good insight that may help us. Philip believes that Christianity, like any other religion, is fundamentally a divergence of beliefs birthed out of culture. And, as he has written in his book, Edinburgh to Salvador: Twentieth Century Ecumenical Missiology (1999, chp 7), says: The problem of relationship between the Christian Gospel and religions and cultures has been a perennial one in the history of Christian mission. A similar thought has been echoed by Richard Niebuhr in his book Christ and Culture (1975, pg. 11) in his citing that, Christianity, whether defined as Church, creed or ethic or movement of though, itself moves between the poles of Christ and culture. Both these theologians share parallels of ideologies that recognize the important role that culture play when intertwining human social and religious activity. Through the ages of time, the Christian church has preserved many conflicts borne out of the clash of cultures. The problems that we find in the earliest years of the Christian church differ within the context of time in the existence of humankind. Similar challenges yet exist, while not so glaring in open conflict; they yet exist ---because cultures of differences breed opposing opinions of right verses wrong religious practices.

10 References

Carson, D. A., and Moo, Douglas, J. (2005). An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Ellingsen, Mark (1999). Reclaiming Our Roots: An Inclusive Introduction to Church History, Volume 1. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press. Niebuhr, Richard H. (1975). Christ and Culture. New York, NY: Harper & Row. Philip, T. V. (1999). Edinburgh to Salvador: Twentieth Century Ecumenical Missiology. Kashmere Gate, Delhi, India: CSS and ISPCK. White, L. Michael (2010). From Jesus to Christianity, special PBS Frontline Documentary, aired on February 16, 2010. White, Wesley (2008). In Search of Early Christianity, Part II. Big Sandy,TX: Dynamic Christian Ministries. Zodhiates, Spiros, editor (1984). The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible. Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers.