God has always placed himself under certain agreements with man. These Biblical covenants or dispensations are summarized in another article on the Preacher’s Study Blog and we invite your consideration of that piece.
Jesus mission was to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). But in its early stages that mission was limited to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). There were Gentiles (non-Jews) who knew of Jesus and who received accolades from the Lord (Matthew 8:5-13)(1) The centurion of Acts 10 is described before his conversion as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2). In Acts 2:11 the Bible mentions proselytes in attendance at the Jewish feast and at the coming of the church. But these isolated occurrences should be viewed as exceptions and not normative. Generally, Gentiles were separate from the work of Jesus during his earthly ministry. They were not condemned because they were Gentiles. They were sinners just like the Jews (Romans 3:23). God was dealing with them differently but just as effectively as their Jewish counterparts.
When the church began on Pentecost Sunday it began with Jews (Acts 2:5-11). From chapters 2 through 9 of Acts the work of the apostles was limited to Jewish people(2). The conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10 marked an end to that era.
Peter receives a vision in which he is told to rise and eat foods that were considered unclean under the Law of Moses. He refused and was told by God not to consider anything unclean which God had made (Acts 10:9-16). Perplexed by this vision Peter is next confronted with messengers from Cornelius (Acts 10:17). He travels with them to the home of Cornelius. There, a miracle occurs which confirms to Peter that God has now included the Gentiles in the church (Acts 10:44). When reporting this event to concerned Jews back in Jerusalem the Jews, after hearing his report, say, “Then to the Gentiles also, God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Clearly, the conversion of Cornelius marks a milestone in the spread of the Gospel.
From this study some facts emerge:
- Cornelius was not a Jew, therefore a Gentile,
- Cornelius was not a Christian prior to Peter’s visit in Acts 10,
- Cornelius was lauded by the Spirit as a devout man who worshiped God,
- Prior to the conversion of Cornelius the gospel was not intended for them.
We may conclude that for Gentiles, the Patriarchal Age continued until Cornelius and then came to an end.
Let us add that this is a rather academic question. It is curious and is a part of Scripture which should be studied. But for you and me the message is clear. We live in the Christian era and are all subject to the gospel. As Paul said, after the conversion of Cornelius, God “commands all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30).
I am always interested in your take on this question and any others. Please leave your comments below. You may do so anonymously if you wish._____
- The text does not specifically say that he was a Gentile and we do know that centurions could be of nationalities different from Rome but the context of Jesus’ statement strongly suggests that the centurion is not Jewish.(↩)
- This even included the Samaritans whom the Jerusalem Jews held to be racially inferior and really only half-Jews if that.(↩)