Friday, January 05, 2018

It's odd when fishermen miss the boat

In Acts 11, we read of Peter's report to the Jerusalem Church following his visit to the Gentile home of Cornelius. The meeting with the church began not as a joyous celebration of a Gentile family receiving the good news, but rather Peter, the apostle Peter, being called in on the carpet:
1Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (Acts 11:1:3
Only after justifying himself by recounting his experience with a supernatural vision (of Acts 10) is Peter's mission accepted. Keep in mind that while much of the text centers around the dietary "violations", that (while vitally important in its own right) is something of a red herring. The central issue here is that the gospel was preached to the Gentiles. Many translations will label this section "Gentiles hear the Good News" rather than "Peter justifies the end of dietary restrictions." Matthew Henry comments:
The preaching of the gospel to Cornelius was a thing which we poor sinners of the Gentiles have reason to reflect upon with a great deal of joy and thankfulness; for it was the bringing of light to us who sat in darkness. (Matthew Henry Commentary on Acts 11.
I find this puzzling. This is Acts 11, not Acts 2. "The" Pentecost happened some time prior. The Jerusalem church is thriving. The gospel has spread to Greek Jews (The Hellenists, including Stephen, already martyred) and Africa (the Ethiopian Jewish pilgrim, and likely to Alexandria where Apollos hears it, at least in some form). Perhaps some Gentiles had heard it (there is no record) --but certainly not first-hand from the apostles or from missionaries sanctioned by the apostles.

It is as if they completely forgot the Abrahamic covenant--even though they now had a complete context in which to understand fully its implications, including the teaching of John the Baptist, who pointed out that the seed of Abraham was spiritual, not genetic (see Matt. 3:9.) 

Most incomprehensible to me is that they seem to have missed the message of the Great Commission:
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matt 28:19
It is as if they understood "all nations" to be restricted to "Jews of the diaspora, from all nations."

There is a theory, which I have discussed a bit here: (The New Community). (Which also will be part of a Sunday School I'll be teaching starting 21 January. More on that later.) In a nutshell it is that the Jerusalem church, up until God supernaturally opened Peter's eyes, was supernaturally blinded by God's providential protection. To have reached out too soon to the Gentiles would have cost the early Jerusalem church its tenuous support among most of the parties of the Sanhedrin-- a counter to the animus from the majority party of the Sadducees who were just barely restrained from going after the apostles. As soon as the Nazarenes began proselytizing  Gentiles, and not requiring the men to get circumcised or follow the dietary customs like routine Jewish converts, their feeble but important support among the Pharisees would vanish. And that is indeed what happened.

The title of this post is pretty catchy, dontcha think?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting theory, but it makes sense. All things, even our cluelessness, work together for good. Looking forward to your Sunday school class.