In Parts 1 and 2 we demonstrated how Jesus was thoroughly Jewish in his genealogy and parentage, expectations, upbringing, message, and prophetic character. What about the non-Jews (‘Gentiles’) in his world? Were they invited to become part of his community of believers?
Status of the Non-Jews / ‘Gentiles’: Jesus’ Gospel was for the Jews
That the gospel message of Jesus and his ministry was intended strictly for the Jews is clearly and firmly narrated in the Bible. Jesus commissioned his apostles with these instructions:
Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. (Gospel of Matthew 10:5-6)
On the other side of the coin, the Samaritans likewise used to avoid Jesus because of his Jewish identity. While calling people to his message, Jesus wanted to cross through a Samaritan village; the Samaritans refused him hospitality (Gospel of Luke 9:53). A Canaanite woman (Gospel of Matthew 15:22)– a ‘Syrophoenician woman’ in the Gospel of Mark 7:26–came to Jesus asking him to heal a daughter who was demon-possessed and had been suffering terribly, but he refused to acknowledge her right to his help because of their non-Jewish identity, declaring his mission and vision:
I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (Gospel of Matthew 15:24).
Non-Jews Branded “Dog” and “Swine”
Jesus labeled Gentiles as “dogs” (Gospel of Matthew 15:26; Gospel of Mark 7:27-28). He warned his Disciples, and made it a matter of principle, that his ministry should be out of reach for the Gentiles. For he had made a pronouncement, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Gospel of Matthew 7:6). About this verse, New American Bible (Revised Edition) writes in the footnote to Gospel of Matthew 7:6 (d): “Dogs and swine were Jewish terms of contempt for Gentiles.
When the non-Jewish woman insistently repeated her request for him to heal her daughter, Jesus referred to Gentiles as “dogs,” replying,
It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” (Gospel of Matthew 15:26, Gospel of Mark 7:27).
The healing was done for her in response to her “great faith” (Gospel of Matthew 15:28), but at a distance—out of the public eye.
Jesus would always make a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, honoring the first and putting off the latter. Other such incidents are found in the Gospel of Matthew 5:47, 6:7; Gospel of Mark 10:42-43, et al. Marking out his own people as an exceptional nation, Jesus also warned his apostles that they would be arrested, tortured and persecuted by the Gentiles (Gospel of Matthew 10:18, 20:19). Jesus told his disciples: “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles” (Gospel of Luke 21:24).
No Place for Non-Jews in the Hereafter?
Jesus affirms that at some future time his Twelve Apostles would judge the twelve tribes of Israel. He announced to the Apostles:
Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Gospel of Matthew 19:28).
Luke records the same event:
You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Gospel of Luke 22:28-30).
Within Jesus’ teaching there is no place recognized for non-Jews to be judged in the world to come. Jesus gives them no indication to think of paradise.
Exceptions to his Jews-only Policy (?):
One can cite the two exceptions–the story of the Canaanite woman (Gospel of Matthew 15:21-28) and that of the Roman centurion (Gospel of Matthew 8:5-13; Gospel of Luke 7.1-10) who got Jesus’ blessing. But the Bible asserts that Jesus healed their disorders–only because of their great faith in him–as a courtesy to grant their repeated and earnest pleas, and he did not make them his followers. If Jesus had done so, then we can assume that the Jews would have complained and fomented a riot against him as they did against Paul (Acts of the Apostles 13:49-50) when he was trying to convert Gentiles to his teaching (i.e., Christianity).
Did Jesus Change his Mind?
The most used evidence to substantiate the Church’s belief that Jesus intended for his Disciples/Apostles to extend his gospel to all people–including non-Jews–is the verse:
As you go into the entire world, proclaim the gospel to everyone (Gospel of Mark 16:15).
This verse is being used as a proof text and argument in favor of bringing non-Jews under the big tent of Jesus.
Unfortunately for that argument, biblical scholars inform us that Mark 16:9-20 is a later addition, meaning not part of the original text. Many Bibles end with Mark 16:8. Why they reject the verses 16:9-20—including 16:15–are:
- These verses are not found in many of the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts, as well as in important Old Latin, Syriac, Armenian, and Ethiopic manuscripts.
- Many of the ancient church authorities give no evidence of these verses, including Clement, Origen, and Eusebius. Jerome admitted that only a few Greek copies have it.
- Many Bible translations omit the verse, indicating that these verses are a spurious addition to the text.
- The style and vocabulary of the verses are not the same as the rest of the Gospel of Mark.
As evidence to show that Jesus had a change of heart toward non-Jews when they showed exceptional faith, people also quote the following as final instructions of Jesus to his disciples:
Go ye therefore, and teach all [the] nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Gospel of Matthew 28:19)
Focusing on the words “all [the] nations,” the institutional Church has always said that this phrase means all the people in the world, including non-Jews. But does it?
It is true that many prominent Bible translations have ‘all nations,’ but others have ‘all the nations’ instead of ‘all nations.’ The literal wording is “all the nations.” See Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) of the New Testament:
as well as a range of popular translations:
What may look like no more than two translational choices –with no particular difference in meaning—is more than meets the eye.
The Bible elsewhere uses the wording ‘the nations’ to indicate specifically the twelve Israelite nations. It is notable that God blesses Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, assuring them that their descendants in future will become ‘many nations’ (Genesis 12:2, 17:4-6, 28:3, 35:11, 48:4).
It is also well known that the Gospel of Matthew is written with a Jewish readership in mind–while the other Gospel compositions are aimed at other readerships. In any case, the fact remains that Jesus’ ministry took place within the Jewish community. When Matthew (28:19) wrote ‘all the nations’ he meant the people of all the Jewish tribes, wherever in the world they may have relocated.
Also, regarding those translations having “all people in the world” (28:19), note that the word “world” used in the Gospels means only the area where the speaker’s authority and sovereignty are valid.
- For example, Luke states “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Gospel of Luke 2:1). Here the word ‘the world’ actually meant the region where he had authority, not literally the whole world [of all people everywhere].
- Such meaning is found in other places: Genesis 41:57; 1 Kings 4:34, 10:24. It is to be understood that Jesus` authority at that time could extend no farther than to his own people, the Jews, and to the lands where the Jews lived.
So, the phrase ‘the world’ could not imply the whole world as we are used to understanding that phrasing. The phrase “all-the-world” in the original language loses its expected meaning in English when context is properly scrutinized.
Thus, we see that a translator must keep in mind the distinction between terms in his original text and make sure not to mix ideas in his translation. What seems like no more than a word preference for the English reader can make for a gross theological mistake!
Baptism as a Command of Jesus?
There are problems of a different sort with the second part of Matthew’s verse (28:19b), “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”:
- There is no evidence that Jesus ever baptized his disciples or anyone else–although he began his ministry by personally submitting to the baptism of the Jewish prophet John (“the Baptist”).
- Baptism was a ritual employed by John as a sign that [Jewish] people had repented of their sins and returned to the ways of God as represented in their Law.
- Baptism was later adopted by Paul as a Christian initiation practice.
- The tri-partite (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) baptismal formula represented in this verse is anachronistic; it is known to have been developed later by the institutional Church.
There is no reason to doubt that Jesus authentically instructed his disciples to spread his message to “all the nations” (Gospel of Matthew 28:19a) –that is, to all the Jewish tribes throughout the Jewish Diaspora– since they were clearly defined by him as the people to whom he had been sent (Gospel of Matthew 15:24).
But the second part (b) of Matthew 28:19 was probably added later by an aficionado of Paul, wanting to add Gentiles to Jesus’ target audience. In any case, such a command to baptize does not constitute valid, concluding evidence that Jesus was including non-Jews when he called his [Jewish] people back to keeping Moses’ Law with the correct intentions.
Another problem is that Biblical scholars generally accept that 28:19b is a later addition.
- The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, page 2637, under ‘Baptism,’ says: “Matthew 28:19 in particular only canonizes a later ecclesiastical situation, that its universalism is contrary to the facts of early Christian history, and its Trinitarian formula (is) foreign to the mouth of Jesus.”
- Bultmann, in Theology of the New Testament, 1951, page 133, under ‘Kerygma of the Hellenistic Church and the Sacraments,’ writes that it is openly confessed, as historical fact, that Matthew 28:19 was plainly altered.
To be continued, inshâ’Allah, in Part 4…