What Paul Knew and When He Knew It – Part 4

Some people believe that the Apostle Paul “hijacked” Christianity and turned it into something God never intended. How Paul, a mere human being, could have done that to God’s plan is not explained very well, but they still believe it. Some say Paul was a dupe. Others say he was a fraud. If you believe that, please read Paul – Apostle or Fraud. It should answer many of your questions about Paul and his position in the early Church.

If you wonder what the early Church thought of Paul’s writings, please read Convince Me There’s A God – The New Testament Part 7.

As for whether Paul hijacked or invented Christianity, let’s look at what Paul knew and when he knew it. If you have not read Part 1 of this series, please click here to read. You can read Part 2 by clicking here and Part 3 by clicking here .

The Gentile Question

In the last part of our study we began looking at the Gentile question. Many people who believe Paul changed Christianity point to the first eight chapters of Acts to prove that the followers of Jesus preached exclusively to Jews. They say that Paul pretended to have been told by Jesus in a Heavenly vision to go to the Gentiles.

Did Paul lie? Was Paul’s eventual emphasis on taking the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles his invention or was it the Lord’s intention?

Peter and the Gentiles

If Paul invented preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, then why did Peter preach to them first in Israel? Because God told Peter to preach to a Roman centurion and his family. living in Caesarea.

“And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man.’ And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. Then he said to them, ‘You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?’ So Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.’ Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all— that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins. While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.” Acts 10:24-29 – 48

One of the important things to notice is Peter’s first words to the centurion –

  • “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation.”
  • “But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”

Peter’s initial reaction to the vision he saw in Joppa was to say he had never eaten anything common or unclean. The voice Peter heard in the vision said, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” That’s why Peter told Cornelius that even though he knew it was unlawful for a Jew to keep company with a Gentile, God had shown him (Peter) that he should not call any man common or unclean.

One thing it tells us is that prior to Peter’s vision and interaction with the centurion, the apostles of Christ did not believe they were called to “go to one of another nation.” The word “nation” in the Greek is ἀλλοφύλῳ (allophylō). The word means “foreign, of another tribe or race.” Even though Jesus told Annanias that He had chosen Saul (Paul) to go to Gentiles (ἐθνῶν ethnōn), God opened the Gentile door through Peter first. 

Another thing to notice in Acts 10 is that the Jews who were with Peter (“those of the circumcision”) were astonished when the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles. That’s when Peter said, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Even as the Jews with Peter were astonished, the Jewish disciples back in Jerusalem were upset when they heard what had happened.

“Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, ‘You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” Acts 11:1-3

It is more evidence that what Peter had done with Cornelius was way out of line with what he and the other apostles had taught the thousands of Jews who were following Jesus Christ. Think about that for a moment. Peter and the other apostles had spent more than a month with Christ “after” His resurrection and believed they were not to relate to foreigners (Gentiles). The Holy Spirit came upon Peter and the other apostles in great power to preach the Gospel in Jerusalem and Judea and they believed they were not to relate to foreigners (Gentiles). That was part of the ‘apostles’ doctrine’ the Jewish believers followed beginning at Pentecost (Acts 2:42). It took a special vision from God for Peter to visit a Gentile family and eat with them. It took the  falling of the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends for Peter to agree to baptize them with water.

The Jews “contended” with Peter. The Greek word is διεκρίνοντο (diekrinonto) and means “to judge.” How would Peter explain himself to the Jews in Jerusalem for what he had done by preaching the Gospel to Gentiles and baptizing them with water?

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?’ When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” Acts 11:15-18

Peter added information to what we read in Acts 10. He remembered the “word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Once Peter explained what happened and how it was God’s decision to save the Gentiles, the Jews became silent, glorified God, and said, “then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” God used Peter to open the door of repentance to life to non-Jews living in Israel.

Next Time

What role did Peter’s experience with Gentiles play in Paul’s ministry to Gentiles? We’ll look at that as our special series What Paul Knew and When He Knew It continues.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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