The 490 years and God’s covenant with Israel ended at Stephen’s stoning.

EXCERPT: God’s covenant with Israel did not come to an end at Christ’s death. The end of the covenant came two to four years later when Israel, by stoning Stephen, rejected the Holy Spirit. At that time, Jesus stood to announce the end of the covenant.

A summary of this article is available HERE.


PURPOSE

In Dispensationalism, God suspended His covenant with Israel at the Cross and postponed the last seven years to just before Christ’s return.

This article shows that that covenant was not suspended at Christ’s death. Rather, during the first few years after Jesus died, God gave Israel a final opportunity to repent. For this purpose, He sent His Holy Spirit, but to Israel alone (Acts 10:47-11:3, 18, 19). The gospel was preached to Jews alone. 

ACTS 1-6

The first chapters of Acts show that God’s covenant with Israel did not end at the cross. On to contrary, He sent His Holy Spirit, His miracle-working, Spirit-filled disciples, and the gospel message, but to Jerusalem ONLY and to Jews ONLY (cf. Acts 10:45):

The first seven chapters of Acts do not mention non-Jews at all.

Jesus explicitly told His disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4).

His disciples received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost – a day when Jews from every nation were gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2:10, 5). This implies that God chose that day and place to give the apostles the opportunity to preach repentance to the Jews. Peter preached to the gathered Jews to repent (Acts 2:38) and on that day 3000 were added to the church (Acts 2:41, cf. 5:11).

Peter preaching at the templeGod gave Peter to heal a lame man at the temple (Acts 3:2, 7). This implies that God wanted to give Peter the opportunity to preach to the Jews at the temple. All the people gathered around Peter and the apostles; full of amazement (Acts 3:11). Peter urged them to “repent, so that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19). Many believed, and the church grew to 5000 men (Acts 4:4).

After the apostles were jailed, an angel released them and told them to go and speak to the people in the temple. They preached every day in the temple (Acts 5:18, 20, 42).

Peter told the Jews that God exalted Jesus “to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).

In conclusion, during those first years after the cross, while “the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly,” not a single non-Jew accepted the gospel or received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45 – i.e. Jews). The church consisted of Jews only (Acts 6:7). They adhered to all Old Testament laws. In other words, the infant church remained part of (a sect of) Judaism. 

A series of articles are available that explain the history of the early church in more detail. See Early Church Table of Contents.

PETER’S VISION 

Peter dreaming unclean animalsThe vision of the unclean animals that God gave to Peter (Acts 10:11, 12, 19-20) and the subsequent events teach us much about the attitude of the Christians in the time before that vision. Many people suppose that that vision was about what Christians are allowed to eat, but when Peter interpreted his vision himself and said:

God has shown me that I should not call
any man unholy or unclean
” (Acts 10:28).

I most certainly understand now
that God is not one to show partiality,
but in every nation the man who fears Him
and does what is right is welcome to Him

(Acts 10:34-35).

The Spirit told me to go with them
without misgivings
” (Acts 11:12).

In other words, before Peter had received that vision, he and the other Christians thought of Gentiles as “unholy or unclean.” Therefore, they did not associate with Gentiles or proclaimed the gospel to them. And they thought that God preferred Jews over other people.

Cornelius receives the Holy SpiritPeter went to Cornelius’ house. While Peter was speaking to the uncircumcised Gentiles, the Holy Spirit fell on them and they spoke in tongues. This amazed the “circumcised” that came with Peter (Acts 10:23, 44-45). This means that this was the first time that uncircumcised people received the Holy Spirit. The Jews thought that only Jews could receive the Holy Spirit.

When Christians in Judea (all of them were Jews) heard about these things, they took issue with Peter and asked him why he went to uncircumcised people and ate with them (Acts 11:2-3). This again confirms that, before this point in history, the Christians did not associate with Gentiles.

Through Peter’s vision and the events of Acts 10, God taught the Christians to take the message to the Gentile world.

STEPHEN’S DEATH

In Acts 6, the gospel still focused on the circumcised (Acts 6:7). But in Acts 10, God, by giving Peter the vision, redirects the gospel to non-Jews. The intermediate text describes the persecution of the believers that began with the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 (Acts 8:1) and ended with Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:31). Paul was to become the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom 11:13; Gal 2:10). Therefore, this shift in the gospel focus was caused by the persecution of God’s Spirit-filled people.

However, it is proposed that it was specifically Stephen’s death that was the turning point. Firstly, the persecution began with Stephen’s stoning (Acts 8:1).

Secondly, Stephan announced the end of the covenant. Another article (The Covenant in Daniel 9) has shown that the entire Daniel 9 is based on God’s covenant with Israel. Stephen’s speech was similarly based on the covenant. But while Daniel confessed the sins of his people and prayed for the mercies of the covenant, Stephen’s speech was a pronouncement of God’s judgment in terms of the covenant:

In contrast to other speeches in Acts, Stephen did not call his hearers to repentance. Rather, he cited God’s mighty acts on behalf of His people in the past; showing that God was faithful to the covenant. Then he lists the failures of the Jewish people; showing that they failed to keep their side of the covenant.

After his long recital of Israel’s history, he announced his verdict:

You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51- 53)

Stoning of StephenStephen saw “Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). The Bible consistently says that Jesus sat down at the right hand of God (Luke 22:69; Heb 8:1-2; 10:12; cf. Col 3:1; Rom 8:34; Acts 2:33; 5:31; Mark 16:19; 1 Peter 3:22). But Stephen saw Him standing. For this reason, it is proposed that Jesus stood in judgment and that Stephen was the conduit through whom Jesus announced judgment on the Jewish nation. In other words, through Stephen, Jesus announced the end of God’s covenant with Israel.

WHEN DID STEPHEN DIE?

Merrill C. Tenney, in his book “New Testament Times” (Inter-Varsity Press, 1967, chapter 7), gives 30 AD as the most probable year for the crucifixion and 32/33 as the most probable date for the stoning of Stephen and the conversion of Paul. R. Jewett (A Chronology of Paul’s Life (Philadelphia, 1979), pp. 1-2) dates Paul’s conversion to AD 34. Since this should at the most months after the stoning of Stephen, he could have been stoned as late as 34 AD. Stephen, therefore, died about 2 to 4 years after the Cross.

CONCLUSIONS

GOD’S APPEAL

Never before or after in the history of mankind has God appealed for the corporate heart of any nation like He did, firstly, during the 3½ years of Christ’s personal ministry on earth and, secondly, during the 2 to 4 years after He died when He sent the Holy Spirit with power, but only to the Jews.

THE END OF THE COVENANT

Since the gospel went TO JEWS ONLY during the first few years after the Cross, God’s covenant with Israel did not come to an end when Jesus died. After He died, Israel, as a nation, still had one final opportunity to repent.

Since God, after Stephen’s death and after the persecution of the Christians (Acts 7; 8:1), suddenly redirected the gospel away from the Jews to all people, two to four years after the Cross, that must have been the end of the covenant. At that time, “the kingdom of God” was taken away from the Jews (Matt 21:43). For a further discussion, see, Who is Israel in Revelation?

By killing God’s Spirit-filled disciples, Judaism rejected the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 6:8-13). It seems appropriate that Israel would terminate the covenant with the rejection of the Holy Spirit, just as they killed Jesus a few years earlier.

HOW THIS RELATES TO THE PROPHECY

The purpose of the 490 years of Daniel 9 was to give Israel an opportunity to fulfill the goals of Daniel 9:24. They still had this opportunity in the first few years after Jesus died.

Daniel 9 does not specify a specific event for the end of the 490 years. However, since the 490 years were an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, the 490 years came to an end when God’s covenant with Israel ended, namely on the day that Stephen died.

The “one week” of verse 27 – the final seven years – is the period from Jesus’ baptism in AD 26/27 until Stephen’s death in about AD 33/34.

During these final seven years, Jesus confirmed God’s covenant with Israel; firstly, through His personal preaching before He died and, secondly, for a further three or four years after His death, by sending His disciples, empowered with the Holy Spirit, ONLY to Jews.

The Jewish sacrificial system pointed forward to “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Therefore, when He offered Himself as the Lamb of God” in the middle of” the final seven years, He put “a stop to sacrifice and grain offering” (Dan 9:27) in terms of significance.

ARE JEWS NOW CONDEMNED?

The gospel … is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16).

The covenant which God made with Israel was not synonymous with salvation. The purpose of the covenant was that Israel would take God’s salvation to the entire world (cf. Gen 12:1-3). God elected Israel for Himself and conferred to them a series of privileges, such as the multiplication of their seed, the gift of the land, and His own presence in blessing and protection, to enable them to be the channel for His blessing to all other nations. Thus the covenant must be understood in terms of mission.

So, to state that the Jewish nation is no longer the people of the covenant does not mean that God has rejected them as individuals (cf. Rom 11:1–10). Rather, God has chosen another method to execute His missionary plan. God’s covenant with Israel was established on a corporate basis; i.e., it involved the entire nation as an entity. The end of the covenant with Israel does not imply the end of God’s love for the individual Jews. Because of this, the gospel was still preached to them even after the stoning of Stephen (cf. Acts 28:17-28). But the privilege of being “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9) was no longer theirs. The people of the covenant are now not defined by bloodline, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:26-29; cf. Rom 11:25-32).

In his last moments, Stephen prayed: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)! These words were much more than a prayer. They were the genuine expression of God’s will in relation to the Jews. “If they do not continue in their unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Rom 11:23).

WHAT IF ISRAEL REPENTED?

If Israel accepted the message brought by the Holy Spirit during the years after Christ’s death, history would have been very different. Then the nation of Israel would have proclaimed “the excellencies of Him” to the entire world in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the goals for the seventy weeks would have been fulfilled:

Finish the transgression,
Make an end of sin,
Make atonement for iniquity,
Bring in everlasting righteousness,
Seal up vision and prophecy and
Anoint the most holy place. (Dan 9:24)

For more on this controversial subject, please see the series of articles on the return of Christ, concluding with Why did He Not Return in the First Century as He promised?


OTHER ARTICLES

Dispute over the Law of Moses when the first Gentiles became Christians

EXCERPT: The church regarded Gentiles as unclean and avoided them but when Gentiles also received the Holy Spirit in Acts 10, it convinced the church that Gentiles may join the church. But a dispute arose as some Christians claimed that Gentile Christians must observe the Law of Moses.

SUMMARY

The first 30 years of the church can be divided into four phases.  The third phase commenced with Acts 10.  This chapter can be divided into two events, both of which were shocks to the early church.

The first was the vision that Peter received in Joppa (Acts 10:5, 10).  Through this vision, Peter, representing the church, discovered that Gentiles are not unclean (Acts 10:15, 28), that God does not show partiality to the Jews (Acts 10:34), and that people from all races and nations are welcome to Him if they fear Him and do what is right (Acts 10:35).  This was a shock to the church because it previously thought of Gentiles as unclean and as not welcomed by God, even Gentiles that fear Him and do what is right.  The church previously thought only Jews are welcomed by God and that they (the church) are accepted by God because they are Jews.  The purpose of the vision was to convince Peter to “accompany them (the Gentiles) without misgivings” (Acts 10:20, 29), and to prepare him for the second event.

The second event—and shock to the early church—was when the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles while they were listening to Paul (Acts 10:44-45); “all the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed” (Acts 10:45). The Gentiles received the Holy Spirit in the same way that the Jews received the Holy Spirit in the beginning. This made such a huge impression on Peter that he mentioned it twice when he reported back to the Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 11:15, 17), and once again during the Jerusalem Church Council (Acts 15:8).  The purpose of this event was to show the church that believing Gentiles must be baptized into the church (Acts 10:45). This was the first time that Gentiles were allowed to join the church. Before this event, the church had no idea that the gospel must of may be preached to Gentiles.

However, this is not a completely accurate statement. Because the believers included circumcised Gentiles, the distinction between Jew and Gentile is not exactly the same as between circumcised and uncircumcised people. The Old Testament allowed Gentiles to become part of God’s covenant people and to share equally in the duties and benefits of the Law of Moses (Exo 12:48-49; Deut 23:8; Isa 14:1; 56:6-8).  Such Gentiles are called proselytes (Matt 23:15; Acts 13:43).  They were circumcised and observed the Law of Moses.  As far as religious matters are concerned, the Jews did not distinguish between Abraham’s physical descendants and Gentiles, but between “circumcised” and uncircumcised men.” That is why Paul so often referred to the uncircumcised, instead of Gentiles, and to the circumcised, instead of Jews (for instance Eph 2:11; Gal 2:7; Col 2:11, Rom 2:25-29; 3:1). Therefore, wherever this article refers to “Jews” the reader must understand “circumcised believers”, which include proselytes (circumcised Gentiles). Similarly “Gentiles” must be read to exclude Gentiles that converted to Judaism.

The real surprise in Acts 10 (to the early church) was not that Gentiles received the Holy Spirit because Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit before (Acts 6:5). The real surprise and real lesson in Acts 10, to the Jewish mind of the early church, was that uncircumcised” Gentiles, who do not observe the Law of Moses, received the Holy Spirit. Before these events, the apostles preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to circumcised people only. The purpose of the events in Acts 10 was to show that the gospel must be preached to uncircumcised people as well and that Gentiles must be accepted into the church without conversion to Judaism.

The events of Acts 10 provide further evidence that, up to the time that Gentiles received the Holy Spirit in Acts 10, all Christians observed the Law of Moses:

Peter said, “I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean” (Acts 10:14).

The believers that came with Peter are described as “circumcised”, which implies that they observed the Law of Moses. They were “amazed“ when “Gentiles” also received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45).  Gentiles, therefore, are mentioned as the opposite of “circumcised”.  This means that uncircumcised people (Gentiles)—namely people that do not observe the Law of Moses—have never before received the Holy Spirit.

This was the first time that “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18) and that Gentiles were baptized (Acts 10:47), which means that only Jews previously accepted Jesus as Christ (Messiah) and were baptized.

The church, until the time of the events in Acts 10, not only consisted of Jews only; they also strictly observed all Jewish laws and traditions, but obviously, as taught and applied by Christ. But since all other church members observed the Law of Moses, the question afterward arose whether the Gentiles that have accepted Jesus must not still be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses.  Since his vision informed Peter that Gentiles must be accepted as clean and since the Holy Spirit was poured out on uncircumcised Gentiles, just like on the Jews at Pentecost, Acts 10 seems to indicate that these Gentile Christians do not have to convert to Judaism through circumcision. The third phase concluded when the church made a formal decision that Gentiles do not have to observe the Law of Moses. This is recorded in Acts 15.

Gentiles received the Holy Spirit for the first time (Acts 10) more or less 7 to 10 years after Pentecost. There were a further about ten years between the events in Acts 10 and Acts 15. In other words, only about 20 years after Pentecost did the church formally agree that Gentiles may join the church without circumcision and without the need to observe the Law of Moses.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

ACTS 10 SUMMARIZED

A Gentile at Caesarea named Cornelius (Acts 10:1), a devout man who feared God and prayed to God continually (Acts 10:2, 22), saw a vision of an angel who said to him to send for Peter (Acts 10:3-6, 30-32), for “he will speak words to you by which you will be saved” (Acts 11:14). Cornelius sent two servants and a devout soldier to Peter (Acts 10:7-8).

As they were nearing the place where Peter was, Peter also had a vision (Acts 10:9-10; 11:5).  He saw the sky opened up, and a great sheet coming down, filled with all kinds of animals and crawling creatures and birds (Acts 10:11-12).  He heard a voice saying, “Peter, kill and eat!” (Acts 10:13; 11:7).  But Peter answered, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean” (Acts 10:14; 11:8).  Then the voice said to him, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15; 11:9). This happened three times (Acts 10:16; 11:10).

Peter was greatly perplexed about the vision. While he was still thinking about it, the men from Cornelius appeared at the gate (Acts 10:17), asking for Peter (Acts 10:18). The Spirit said to Peter, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Go down and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself” (Acts 10:19-20; 11:12). Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; why have you come?” (Acts 10:21-22) They said, “Cornelius was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you” (Acts 10:22). Peter invited them in and gave them lodging (Acts 10:23).

The next day Peter and some of the brethren went with Cornelius’ men to Caesarea (Acts 10:23).  Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends (Acts 10:24-27).  Peter said to them:

You know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for.” (Acts 10:28-29)

After Cornelius explained the vision he had seen (Acts 10:30-33), Peter continued:

I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35).

Peter then explained to them what Jesus Christ did in the land of the Jews, that He was crucified but resurrected and appeared to chosen witnesses, and that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:36-43). While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening, just as He fell on the Jews at the beginning, and they spoke with tongues and exalted God (Acts 10:44-46; 11:15). This amazed the circumcised believers who came with Peter (Acts 10:45). Then Peter said, “Surely no one can refuse to baptize a person who has received the Holy Spirit, can he?” (Acts 10:47) Peter ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:48).

The apostles and the Christians in Judea heard what happened (11:1). So when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:2-3). Peter then explained to them what happened Acts 11:4-16) and concluded:

If God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17)

The Christians in Jerusalem then concluded:

Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

GENTILES ARE UNCLEAN.

Most of Acts 10 describes what happened, interspersed with conclusions expressed by Peter and others (Acts 10:28-29, 34-35, 47; 11:17-18).  These conclusions are important.  We should not develop our own interpretations of these incidents.

Peter’s first conclusion in Acts 10 is his interpretation of the vision.  He said when he arrived at Caesarea:

You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28). “That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for” (Acts 10:29).

This has a number of implications:

Firstly, Peter thought of himself primarily as a Jew; a loyal member of Judaism, and only secondarily as a Christian.  He thought of Christianity as a subset of Judaism, namely as the Jews that believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

Secondly, the Jews in general, including the Christians—since all Christians at this point in time were Jews—considered Gentiles to be “unholy and unclean”, which made it unlawful for Christians to associate with Gentiles or to visit them. For that reason, as stated in verse 29, Peter would not have been willing to go with Cornelius’ to Cornelius’ house if he did not receive the vision.

This is confirmed by what happened when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem when his fellow church members: “took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:2, 3).  In other words, the church strongly disapproved of eating with “uncircumcised men”.

We also see in Galatians, written much later, that some Christian Jews still then considered eating with Gentiles to be a grievous sin (Gal 2:12). This was the attitude in the Jewish culture of which the church was part.  The Jews despised Gentiles.

We see an illustration of this in Acts 22, where Paul addresses the non-Christian Jews. They listened quite attentively, but the moment he mentioned God saying to him “I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21), the Jews were in an uproar (Acts 22:22).

Another striking example of the Jews’ hatred of Gentiles is found in Luke 4. In Luke 4:22 “all were speaking well of Him (Jesus)”, but when He mentioned two examples from the Old Testament where Gentiles were chosen above Israelites (Luke 4:25-27), “all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage” (Luke 4:28) and “drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill  … in order to throw Him down the cliff” (Luke 4:29).

NOT A MESSAGE ABOUT FOOD

Many people think that the purpose of the vision of the sheet containing “all kinds of four-footed creatures” was to allow Christians to eat “unclean” animals, but Peter’s vision must be interpreted as Peter himself interpreted it, namely that “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28). The purpose of the vision was not to say something about food but to convince Peter to accompany the uncircumcised men, which Cornelius sent, “without misgivings” (Acts 10:20). To interpret the vision as saying anything about what Christians may eat is taking it out of its context. One should not separate Peter’s vision from the entire incident,

JEWS CHOSEN

Peter’s next conclusion, made at the beginning of his speech in Cornelius’ house, was:

“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35).

This means that he (and the church in general) previously understood that God does show partiality, namely to Jews, and that other people are NOT welcome to God; even people who fear Him and do what is right.  Israel thought of itself as the Chosen People.

OBSERVE THE LAW OF MOSES

It has been shown above, in the discussion of the Judea & Samaria phase, that all Christians in that phase observed the Law of Moses. This would then be true up to the point in time when Gentiles received the Holy Spirit for the first time in Acts 10.  This is confirmed by the events of Acts 10 and 11:

Peter’s response, “I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean” (Acts 10:14), indicates that the church, up to that point in history, did not eat anything unholy and unclean. This implies that the church, at the time, still observed the Jewish laws.

The believers that came with Peter are described as “circumcised”, which, in this context, means that they observed the Law of Moses.  They were “amazed“ when “Gentiles” also received the Holy Spirit (10:45).  Gentiles, therefore, are the opposite of “circumcised” people.  Gentiles are “uncircumcised” (Acts 11:3).  Since Peter’s “circumcised” companions were amazed that “uncircumcised men” (11:3) received the Holy Spirit, we can conclude that this never happened before, which means that all Christians previously observed the Law of Moses.

Peter, after he saw that the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, said: “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he? “ (Acts 10:47)  This, therefore, was the first time that Gentiles were baptized. Peter—and therefore the church in general—previously thought that, because the Jews were God’s chosen people, only Jews may be baptized.

The conclusion of the Christians in Jerusalem, after Peter reported back to them, was, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).  This confirms that this was the first time that Gentiles accepted Jesus as Christ (Messiah).

The church, up to that point in history, not only consisted only of Jews; they also observed strictly all Jewish laws and traditions, but obviously, as taught and applied by Christ.

CIRCUMCISION

The distinction between Jew and Gentile requires further explanation.

Acts 10:45-11:3 describe the believers as “circumcised” and Gentiles as uncircumcised men”.  This is the first time that the Book of Acts refers to people in such a way”. It says, “those who were circumcised took issue with him (Peter), saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:2-3). Why do Acts now suddenly refer to circumcised and uncircumcised men, instead of Jews and Gentiles?

Furthermore, Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit before, for instance, “Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch” (Acts 6:5). Why then were the “circumcised believers” “amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:45)?

The answer is that, as far as religious matters are concerned, the Jews did not distinguish between Abraham’s physical descendants and Gentiles, but between “circumcised” and uncircumcised men”.  The Old Testament allowed Gentiles to become part of God’s covenant people:

Deut 23:8 speaks of “one who enters into the assembly of Jacob“.

Isa 14:1 mentions converts as “strangers” who shall “cleave to the house of Jacob“.

Joshua led the people of God across the Jordan into the Promised Land. Thanks to a Gentile woman, named Rahab, the city of Jericho is taken. Rahab not only protects the Hebrew spies from her own people but also confessed the Lord with her mouth, saying, “I know that the Lord has given this land to you … the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:9, 11). Rahab joined the people of Israel, and she was included in the genealogy of the Messiah Himself (Matt 1:5).

Naomi was an Israelite whose husband and sons died in the foreign land of Moab. Both her sons had married Moabite women.  While one of their wives stayed in Moab, the other – Ruth – followed Naomi back to the land of Judah, where she married the kinsman-redeemer Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). A whole book in the Bible is devoted to her, and she also became an ancestor of Christ (Matt 1:5).

A Gentile that put his or her faith in YHWH is called a “proselyte”:

Jesus said to the Jews, “For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte” (Matt 23:15).  (See also Acts 13:43)

The duties and benefits which the Old Testament bestowed on Jews apply equally to proselytes.  They were also circumcised and they also observed the Law of Moses:

Exo 12:48 provides for the proselyte’s partaking of the paschal lamb.

The same law shall be to him that is born in the land, and to the proselyte that sojourneth with you” (Exo 12:49).

Foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD … and who hold fast to my covenant-these I will … give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:6-8).

Jews would not “associate with a foreigner or to visit him” (Acts 10:28) or eat with them (Acts 11:3) because they were thought to be “unclean”.  But once a Gentile has been circumcised and “observe the Law of Moses” (Acts 15:5) and the Jewish customs, they were no longer viewed as unclean.

The real distinction was therefore not between Abraham’s physical descendants and Gentiles, but between circumcised and uncircumcised. That is also why Paul so often referred to the uncircumcised, instead of Gentiles, and circumcised, instead of Jews:

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision” (Eph 2:11)

But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter” (Gal 2:7 KJV; See also Col 2:11, Rom 2:25-29; 3:1).

Therefore, wherever this article refers to “Jews” the reader must understand “circumcised believers”, which include proselytes (circumcised Gentiles).

It, therefore, did not surprise the Jews when a Gentile proselyte received the Holy Spirit.  The surprise, in Acts 10, was that uncircumcised Gentiles, that do not observe the Law of Moses, have received the Holy Spirit.  Before these events, the apostles preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to circumcised people only.  The purpose of the events in Acts 10 was to show that the gospel must be preached to uncircumcised people as well and that Gentiles must be accepted into the church without conversion to Judaism.

UNITY

In Acts 2 the apostles received the Holy Spirit without the intervention of other people, but in Acts 10-11 the apostle Peter went to the Gentiles for them to receive the Holy Spirit.  Similar to the Samaritans, who received the Holy Spirit only after the apostles went to Samaria and laid hands on them, the authority of the apostles and therefore the unity of the church was preserved.

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