The End of the Patriarchal Age

by Bryant Evans on August 16, 2010

A reader has asked the question: “When did the Patriarchal Age end for the Gentiles, Acts 2 or Acts 10?” It’s a good question and we will try to give an accurate answer. First some background.

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._____

  1. 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.(&#8617)
  2. This even included the Samaritans whom the Jerusalem Jews held to be racially inferior and really only half-Jews if that.(&#8617)

These articles are similar to the one you just read --

{ 5 comments }

Keiki Hendrix August 17, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Very nice site.

Chuck August 17, 2010 at 3:30 pm

It seems to me that Eph.2:11-12 makes it clear that the Gentiles had no covenant with God.
Proselytes were never allowed in the temple only in the outer court and as for as I can find were never approved by God. (see Mt.23:15) Therefore the Patriarchal Age ended for the Gentiles at the same time it did for the Jews; when the Mosaical age began in Ex.20..

The word “Gentile” was used to describe the apostate early nations; it was derived from the Hebrew word “goi,” a word that defined the Gentiles as strangers or aliens — the heathen nations that were not in covenant relationship with God.
The Hebrew word “Gentile” was translated into the language of the New Testament by the Greek word “ethnos”, and is defined as “…heathen, a multitude or company of the same nature or genus, a nation of people” Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words.

It should also be noted that no Gentile individual or nation, during the Mosaical age, from the time Israel entered the promised land until the cross of Christ, is ever spoken of by the Scriptures as approved of God or righteous while living under God’s “law of sin and death.” a Gentile law of idolatry or worshiping by a Gentile religion among the heathen nations.

THE MOSAICAL AGE: This period covers the history of the Hebrew people (the nation of Israel that descended from the seed of Abraham according to the promise of God), from the receiving of the law covenant through Moses to the death of Christ. The Mosaical age is described in the books of Exodus 20 through the cross and death of Christ.

The old covenant law of Moses was given to and made with ONLY the nation of Israel. All Gentile nations were excluded from this covenant by divine plan and commandment.
Through the “chosen family” of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12-50) came the “chosen nation” of Israel (Ex. 1-40; Eph. 2:11-12). God separated Israel from the gentile nations and commanded his covenant nation to maintain this separation from the heathen and idolatrous Gentiles (Ex. 19:5; Lev. 20:26; Jos. 23:12-13).

Paul’s second use of the word “without” in Ephesians 2:12 “…without God in the world” is from the Greek word “atheos”, and is defined as “Godforsaken.” Vine’s definition is as follows: “..(Atheos), atheist, primarily signifies godless, i.e., destitute of God; in Ephesians 2:12, the phrase indicates, not only that the Gentiles were void of any true recognition of God, and hence morally godless, but that being given up by God, they were excluded from communion with God and from the privileges granted to Israel” Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words.

Bryant Evans August 18, 2010 at 10:41 am

Hi Chuck, Thanks for your comments. I appreciate that you are one of the regular readers here.

I have to disagree with you on this however. But let me be very clear. I do not think Gentiles could be saved by the Patriarchal laws anymore than Jews could be saved by Moses (Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:4). It is only the blood of Jesus that saves men.

You are correct that Gentiles were excluded from the Law of Moses. You are further correct that the Law of Moses was only given to the Jews. I fully agree with those points. However I do not see that the Gentiles were left without some kind of law or covenant.

First, all men have always been under some law from God. Of course no mere law could ever save. Not the Law of Moses and not the Patriarchal laws. All men are saved only in Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Had Christ never come all would stand condemned.

The existence of the law is proven by God’s demand that men glorify him and act in righteousness (Romans 1:18-23). Their failure to obey does not remove or negate the law. When Israel was rebellious the Law still stood. Likewise, when Gentiles lived in rebellion their law still stood. When Cain killed Abel (both under an unquestionable patriarchal law), the law remained and he was judged by it (Genesis 4). In Romans 1:18 it is because of unrighteousness that men suffer the wrath of God. The law is in place, it is just rejected.

God continued to demand appropriate conduct from the alien nations even after the Law was given at Sinai. The entire book of Jonah is set against the backdrop of God’s concern for non-Jewish people. In Jonah 1:2 God directs the prophet to go to Nineveh, an Assyrian city, and cry against it for their wickedness. In Jonah 3:6-9 the people repented and in verse 10 God relented of his planned destruction. He restates his concern for the people in Jonah 4:10-11.

There is also the case of Nebuchadnezzar, used by God as a tool to chasten the Israelites. In Daniel 4 this Gentile king fails to give God the glory for the greatness that he enjoys among the people. God humiliated him until such time as Nebuchadnezzar give God the glory for the
blessings he had received. In Daniel 4:36 God restored the glory of the King upon his repentance.

What of the centurion of Matthew 8:5-13 and of Luke 7:1-10? He was a Gentile and he certainly received accolades from Jesus. Jesus comments about his faith were capped by a miracle which healed his servant.

As to proselytes I wonder what to do with Moses father-in-law. True enough he could not enter the tabernacle but then no one could but the priests. His sons (also Gentiles) would be blessed through their relationship with the Hebrews but they were obviously proselytes (Numbers 10:29-35; Judges 1:16; 4:11). Proselytes were also among the nations gathered in Acts 2:5-13 and were present at the first gospel sermon. The text does not say that proselytes were baptized that day but does seem to suggest it. Of course, when the Temple stood, women could not enter yet we sure don’t want to say that makes them without a covenant. My point is that being proselyte doesn’t really figure in this discussion.

Now Ephesians 2:11-22 has as its import the joining together of Jew and Gentile in Christ. Writing to Gentiles he notes that they were not part of God’s chosen people in the past. The Gentiles had been led astray (1 Corinthians 12:2) to the pagan worship. They broke the covenant, not God.

Now, what are the “covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12)? This would surely refer to the covenant of God with Israel through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and codified through Moses at Sinai. The promise consists of those promises made uniquely to the Jews, namely, nation, land and messianic. Since these were given to the Jews only then the Gentiles didn’t have it. But were they without law? No. They were without God because of their unrighteousness.

Paul argues that the Gentiles, apart from the Law of Moses, had a law in their hearts (Romans 2:1216). This law could not provide ultimate redemption nor could the law of Moses (Hebrews 10:1). You might also consider Romans 2:25-29 where Paul speaks of Gentiles actually judging those who keep the law.

If I am understanding you correctly, you are saying that no Gentile, from the giving of the Law until Pentecost, had any possibility of salvation. If you maintain that and the idea that proselytes were included in the same group then you have God turning his back on his own Creation. Could God do that in his own sovereign choice? Yes, but is that consistent with the Bible generally? I just don’t think so.

Gentiles were always a planned addition to the chosen ones (Isaiah 2:2-5; Isaiah 62:2). Do we really assert that they were under no law at all? Can any man be held accountable apart from some law? No.

My point is simple. All men have always been under some kind of law regardless of their obedience to it. The Gentiles were under God’s law until Acts 10. But ultimately are saved only because of Christ Jesus.

Let me know what you think.

Bryant

Chuck August 19, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I enjoy the discussions but I don’t think we are going to change each others opinion which is fine because I don’t think opinions on matters such as this will condemn us. I will however give you a brief reply.

You stated: What of the centurion of Matthew 8:5-13 and of Luke 7:1-10? He was a Gentile and he certainly received accolades from Jesus. Jesus comments about his faith were capped by a miracle which healed his servant.

I agree that Jesus gave accolades but he did not give forgiveness for sins. Cornelius in Acts 10 was also a devout man that prayed to God daily. I believe that is why he was chosen as the first gentile convert. I also believe that if he had died before the cross of Christ that he would have been forever lost. I do not believe that the blood of Christ provided salvation for any gentile between Exodus 20 and the cross.

You stated: If I am understanding you correctly, you are saying that no Gentile, from the giving of the Law until Pentecost, had any possibility of salvation. If you maintain that and the idea that proselytes were included in the same group then you have God turning his back on his own Creation. Could God do that in his own sovereign choice? Yes, but is that consistent with the Bible generally? I just don’t think so

I don’t think God turned his back on them but that they turned their back on God and that is what is stated in Eph.2:11-22. This passage has as its import the joining together of Jew and Gentile in Christ. Writing to Gentiles he notes that they were not part of God’s chosen people in the past. The Gentiles had been led astray (1 Corinthians 12:2) to the pagan worship. They broke the covenant, not God. I don’t think the gentiles were without “law” because as you stated all men are under God’s law of sin and death. I do however believe they were without God because of their unrighteousness.

Bryant Evans August 23, 2010 at 9:31 am

I agree that this is not a “fellowship issue.” I noted in the post that this was really a kind of academic question that one of the readers asked about.

Based upon you last paragraph I think we agree. In a suzerain covenant, which all covenants involving God are, a covenant is equivalent to being under law. There was no way the patriarchal covenant could save and there was no way the Jewish covenant could save. Salvation rests only in Jesus.

Of course we do disagree about Cornelius and those between Exodus 20 and Acts 10.

Again, thanks for reading brother and keep the comments coming!
Bryant

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: