The conversion of idol worshippers to Jesus Christ created an immediate problem for Jewish Christians. The problem: how should formerly idolatrous people develop an accurate understanding of God, His character, and His will? The problem was not the conversion of idol worshippers. Jews converted idol worshippers to Judaism. Proselytes were people who were not Jews who converted to Judaism. Godfearers were people who were not Jews who were potential Jewish converts. Most Jews were comfortable with converts. The problem centered in how to spiritually stabilize converts.
The process producing converts in Judaism may have followed a progression similar to this: curious attraction; visitor to the synagogue; learner in the synagogue; Godfearer who believed in the living God and His teachings; proselyte who submitted to Jewish circumcision. Most devout Jews were comfortable with this "spiritual migration" of people who were not Jews. Devout Jews living away from Palestine were likely more comfortable with this "spiritual migration."
Using our terminology, people who became proselytes were indoctrinated in Jewish laws, customs, and practices. Because of this process, devout Jews were confident that proselytes could behave as spiritually responsible people. This "spiritual migration" required time. It created opportunities for indoctrination in basic spiritual responsibilities.
Paul's evangelistic outreach among people who were not Jews was strikingly different. He preached Jesus Christ in synagogues and in marketplaces. He spoke to people who were Jews, who were proselytes, who were Godfearers, and who came from every type of non-Jewish background. Often Godfearers responded quickly (Acts 13:48). Often people of idolatrous background responded quickly (Acts 11:26). Quick responses did not concern Paul. Faith can respond quickly. God's grace in Jesus Christ is adequate for every situation. No one understood that better than he did (Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-16; 1 Timothy 1:12-16)!
Jewish Christians called Judaizers were quite uncomfortable with Paul's concept and understanding of grace. Quick conversions produced by Paul's evangelistic fervor were considered spiritually irresponsible. Believers were baptized without an indoctrination process. People with no knowledge of scripture, Jewish worship, Jewish history, Jewish prophets, Jewish customs, or Jewish practices were declared full children of God.
How could a faith/baptism decision be compared to the decision to be circumcised? Idolatrous practices often embraced behaviors that Judaism classified as immoral. How were such converts to learn God's morality? Judaizers regarded indoctrination as superior to grace in producing serious spiritual commitment. Indoctrination demanded acceptable change. The concept of grace was weak!
This issue was one of THE significant issues in the first century church. The apostles were all Jewish. Jesus Christ was Jewish. Jesus was first declared Lord and Christ in Jerusalem. The church began in Jerusalem. In its early years, the church was Jewish. The Jewish apostles and Jerusalem elders should decide what was required of people who were not Jews in becoming Christians. The question was referred to the leaders in the Jerusalem church.
Read Acts 15:1-29.
In the thinking of Judaizing Christians, this open discussion and decision did not resolve the issue. They still were certain that Christians must be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses. The letter called Galatians was written by Paul to Galatian congregations because some Judaizing teachers convinced many of those Christians that knowledge of the law and circumcision were essential to salvation.
Read Galatians 1:6-10.
The tension created by Paul's work among and conversion of people who were not Jews is seen by reading Galatians 2:1-16, Galatians 6:12-16; 2 Corinthians 11:12-15; Acts 15:1-5; and Acts 21:17-36. There was significant, serious opposition in the Jewish Christian community to the conversion of people who had not submitted to basic Jewish practices. That issue frequently created tension and confusion in congregations containing Christians converted from idolatry.
Read Galatians 5:10-12. How would you characterize Paul's frustration with those who insisted that Christians who were not Jews be circumcised?
Some Jewish Christians viewed Christians who were not Jews as did Paul, Barnabas, and Silas. Some did not.
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 1, Lesson 10
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